Prospective cohort study of general and central obesity, weight change trajectory and risk of major cancers among Chinese women

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General obesity, typically measured using body mass index (BMI), has been associated with an increased risk of several cancers. However, few prospective studies have been conducted in Asian populations. Although central obesity, often measured using waist–hip ratio (WHR), is more predictive for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases (CVD) risk than BMI, knowledge of its association with cancer incidence is limited. In a cohort of 68,253 eligible Chinese women, we prospectively investigated the association of BMI, WHR and weight change during adulthood with risk of overall cancer and major site-specific cancers using multivariate Cox proportional hazard models. Compared to the BMI group of 18.5–22.9 kg/m2, obese (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2) women were at an increased risk of developing overall cancer (hazard ratio = 1.36, 95% confidence interval = 1.21–1.52), postmenopausal breast cancer (HR: 2.43, 95% CI: 1.73–3.40), endometrial cancer (HR: 5.34, 95% CI: 3.48–8.18), liver cancer (HR: 1.93, 95% CI: 1.14–3.27) and epithelial ovarian cancer (HR: 2.44, 95% CI: 1.37–4.35). Weight gain during adulthood (per 5 kg gain) was associated with increased risk of all cancers combined (HR: 1.05, 95% CI: 1.03–1.08), postmenopausal breast cancer (HR: 1.17, 95% CI: 1.10–1.24) and endometrial cancer (HR: 1.37, 95% CI: 1.27–1.48). On the other hand, WHR was not associated with cancer risk after adjustment for baseline BMI. These findings suggest that obesity may be associated with cancer risk through different mechanisms from those for type 2 diabetes and CVD and support measures of maintaining health body weight to reduce cancer risk in Chinese women.

What's new?

Obesity rates have risen steeply in Asia, increasing the burden of obesity-related disease in many Asian populations. As a consequence, cancer risk may also be increasing. In populations of European descent, obesity is linked to an elevated cancer risk, and this analysis of data from the Shanghai Women's Health Study suggests that the same is true for Asian populations, revealing positive associations between overall cancer risk and overweight, obesity and high body mass index. These factors were further associated with increased risk of several site-specific cancers. General obesity and weight gain in adulthood were the greatest determinants of cancer risk.

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