Women who are apple shaped are at a significantly higher risk of developing some types of cancer, new research shows.
Scientists analysed almost 400,000 UK adults and found that those with high belly fat were twice as likely to be diagnosed with womb cancer.
How does body shape affect the risk of cancer?
Researchers at Glasgow University said that carrying more fat around the waist increases the overall risk of cancer by 5% for both sexes, with the risk of women developing womb cancer rising by 109% if they had fat around their midriff.
The findings also show visceral fat increased the risk of gallbladder cancer by 83%, kidney cancer by 39%, liver cancer by 25%, colorectal cancer by 14% and breast cancer by 11%.
Speaking at the European Congress on Obesity in Maastricht, lead researcher Dr Celis Morales said: “We know this particular type of fat that you tend to get around your belly is particularly bad.
“It is the fat that builds around your internal organs. That means it has more of a straining effect on them.
“This fat is generating inflammatory markers and it is this inflammation that contributes to causing cancers in the long term.”
The study measured dangerous fat using a new index developed by the researchers called the Visceral Adiposity Index (VAI), which they say should be rolled out on the NHS to flag up patients at risk.
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “The message couldn’t be clearer. Adipose fat - the fat that causes your stomach to protrude - can give you cancer at any level.
“From an age when a child can properly understand this, the message should be drummed home. Cancer can kill you and far too many die from it far too young.”
Prof Tom Sanders, of King’s College London, added: “It has been known for a long time that endometrial (womb) cancer risk is increased with obesity and that oestrogen increases that risk. Body fat can increase tissue exposure to oestrogen.”
What is the Visceral Adiposity Index?
The VAI includes weight circumference, body mass index (BMI), a test for triglycerides and a test for high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
Triglycerides are a type of fat in your bloodstream. If you eat more calories than you need, the extra calories are changed into triglycerides, and these are then stored in fat cells for later use.
HDL, or “good” cholesterol, absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver, which then flushes it from the body.
Dr Ceris explained: “These measures, except for waist circumference, are routinely taken in clinical practice.
“We need to investigate if adding VAI into population-based screening tools could help us identify individuals at high risk of developing cancer in a much early stage.”
Karis Betts, manager at Cancer Research UK, warned that obesity causes 12 different types of cancer, but it is the second biggest preventable cause of the diseases, after smoking.
Ms Betts said more research is needed to uncover how obesity causes cancer to help prevent more cases.
She said: “One area of research looks at whether fat around organs, known as visceral fat, carries a greater risk than fat under the skin.
“Though it’s not always easy, keeping a healthy weight reduces the risk of developing cancer and you can stack the odds in your favour with healthy habits like eating a balanced diet and keeping active.”