The Impact of Metabolic Syndrome on Cancer Risk: High Blood Sugar, Hypertension, and Obesity

23 March 2024 1616
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Metabolic syndrome, a combination of health conditions including high blood sugar and hypertension, is prevalent in over one quarter of adults in the United States. This condition is already known to increase the likelihood of suffering a stroke, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Now, a recent study indicates that metabolic syndrome may also increase the risk of developing cancer.

Although certain conditions connected with metabolic syndrome are confirmed risk factors for cancer—such as obesity, which a study in 2023 associated with up to 8% of all cancers—the recent research reveals how individual conditions can combine over time to raise the risk of cancer, stated Han-Ping Shi, MD, PhD, the study's lead author and a specialist in gastroenterology, oncology, obesity, and nutrition at Capital Medical University in Beijing.

Shi commented that the findings of the study underline the significance of controlling metabolic syndrome through a variety of methods, like a healthy lifestyle and regular medical check-ups. She also mentioned that early intervention could potentially decrease the risk of cancer.

The study, which has been published in the Cancer journal, consisted of over 44,000 adults, average age of 49, living in Tangshan, a city located southeast of Beijing. All participants, who initially had no cancer, exhibited all five symptoms comprising metabolic syndrome, namely—high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol), high Triglycerides level, high blood sugar, and a large waist circumference.

After four years of scrutiny, the participants were partitioned into four groups according to how severe their metabolic syndrome was: low and stable, moderately low, moderately high, or elevated and increasing. Almost a decade into the study, researchers found that the likelihood of developing cancer was 30% greater for individuals with metabolic syndrome, with this risk being even higher among individuals with worsening conditions.

Those participants presenting an escalating metabolic syndrome were twice as likely to develop breast cancer, three times as likely to develop endometrial cancer, 4.5 times as likely to develop kidney cancer, and 1.6 times as likely to develop liver cancer compared to the low and stable group.

Another aspect tracked by the researchers was C-reactive protein, an inflammation marker. It was found that participants with higher quantities of this protein saw an increased risk of breast, endometrial, colon, and liver cancer. However, people with consistently high or unmanaged metabolic syndrome but not elevated C-reactive protein had an elevated chance of developing kidney cancer.

Tomi Akinyemiju, PhD, a cancer epidemiologist at the Duke School of Medicine, explained that chronic inflammation, known to be linked with risk factors for cancer, can convert normal cells into tumor cells. Shi further said that people with metabolic syndrome can also develop hormone imbalances and insulin resistance, which can promote the progression of cancer.

Though the study is somewhat limited as all the participants were from the same location in China, the findings are in line with prior studies from various locations including Europe, Israel, Mexico, West Africa, and the U.S.

Sonali Thosani, MD, from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, warned that the study should be a concern for U.S. residents given the high rates of metabolic syndrome along with a typical American diet, which can heighten the risk of developing cancer.

While much research has concentrated on understanding the impact and effects of obesity, Akinyemiju stressed that studying how the collective conditions contribute to the disease risk is equally important. Treating metabolic syndrome is not clinically challenging, stated Akinyemiju, who also suggested that maintaining a healthy body weight can help prevent diseases—including for those not considered overweight.

“The more we can help people control diabetes, lipid levels, and blood pressure, the better,” Akinyemiju said. “These are conditions we know how to fix.”