Adult weight gain and risk of colon cancer in men

Dilip K Pandey, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Previous research supports the hypothesis that a "rich" diet (i.e., high in fat and low in fiber) increases the risk of colon cancer. Previous research also supports the hypothesis that physical inactivity increases the risk of colon cancer, perhaps because physical inactivity decreases gut motility, thereby increasing tee time that carcinogens are in contact with the intestinal mucosa. Habitual physical inactivity, combined with rich diet, ordinarily results in chronic energy imbalance and gain in weight, except when energy balance is modified by disease or factors such as cigarette smoking. Cigarette smokers typically stay lean because of effects of smoking on the resting metabolic rate as well as on efficiency of caloric intake and storage. Therefore, if physical inactivity and rich diet do increase the risk of colon cancer, then weight gain during young adulthood should be positively associated with incidence of colon cancer during later life, especially in nonsmokers. This hypothesis was investigated in a cohort of 2,059 randomly selected middle-aged men who were employed at the Western Electric Company in Chicago and were free of clinically diagnosed cancer at initial examination in 1958. Body mass index (BMI) in middle age was calculated from measured height and weight at the initial examination. BMI at age 20 was estimated from weight at age 20 as recalled at the initial examination and height as measured at the initial examination. Change in BMI between age 20 and middle age was estimated by subtracting the BMI at 20 from the BMI in middle age. Forty-nine incident cases of colon cancer were detected during 25 years (43,326 person-years) at risk. When stratified by level of change in BMI from age 20 to middle age ($\le$1.9, 2.0-3.9, 4.0-5.9, $\ge$6.0 kg/m$\sp2$), age-adjusted relative hazards of colon cancer in never-smokers were 1.00, 1.22, 2.31, and 5.01, respectively (p for trend = 0.008); corresponding values in ever-smokers were 1.00, 0.95, 0.77, and 0.87, These associations did not change appreciably after further adjustment for BMI at age 20, subscapular-triceps skinfold ratio, cigarette smoking, consumption of alcohol, energy, fat, and calcium. We also investigated the hypothesis that the risk of colon cancer was higher in men who were lean at age 20 and became fat by middle age (lean-to-fat) than in men who were fat at age 20 and stayed fat in middle-age (fat-to-fat). "Lean" was defined as BMI $<$24 kg/m$\sp2$ at age 20 and as BMI $<$27.0 kg/m$\sp2$ in middle age. Among never-smokers, in comparison to men who were lean at age 20 and in middle age (lean-to-lean), the age-adjusted relative hazard of colon cancer was 1.43 in the fat-to-fat group (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.37-5.52) and 3.36 in the lean-to-fat group (95% CI 1.21-9.37). This investigation provides new results on the magnitude of risk of colon cancer associated with weight gain during adulthood (from age 20 to middle age). This relation was obscured or underestimated in previous studies due to effect-modification by cigarette smoking. Finally, the result supports the idea that a life-style characterized by chronic energy imbalance during young adulthood increases risk of colon cancer.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

Pandey, Dilip K, "Adult weight gain and risk of colon cancer in men" (1995). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9631377.