Risk factors for heart disease also increase cancer risk

Research commissioned by World Cancer Research Fund International suggests that high blood pressure and high levels of blood sugar and blood fats also increase the risk of cancer

13 February 2015

High blood pressure and high levels of blood sugar and blood fats increase the risk of cancer, the largest study of its kind has found.

Commissioned by World Cancer Research Fund International and conducted by Umeå University in Sweden, the research shows that these three factors - which are typically associated with diabetes or heart disease, and are usually connected to unhealthy lifestyles – also increase the risk of several cancers.

Published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the research focused on nearly 565,000 middle-aged Europeans and found that a combination of high blood pressure, blood sugar, blood fats, BMI and cholesterol particularly increase the risk of liver and kidney cancer in men, and womb and pancreatic cancer in women.

For the study, the researchers created a metabolic risk score of five components: body mass index, blood pressure, and plasma levels of glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides. They found that among their seven cohorts - across Norway, Sweden, and Austria - the higher the risk score level, the greater risk of several cancers.

Men with a high level score showed a 43 per cent increased risk of kidney or liver cancer, a 29 per cent increased risk of colon cancer, and a 27 per cent increased risk of oesophageal cancer.

Women with a high level score showed a 56 per cent increased risk of womb cancer, 53 per cent increased risk of pancreatic cancer, a 40 per cent increased risk of kidney cancer, and a 27 per cent increased risk of cervical cancer.

The results highlight the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. High blood pressure, high levels of blood sugar and blood fats, BMI and cholesterol can all be addressed by a healthy diet, healthy weight, and being physically active.

Dr Tanja Stocks, who led the analyses, said: 'This exciting study, which is the largest of its kind to date, shows how important it is to lead a healthy lifestyle in order to avoid high blood pressure, and high levels of blood sugar and blood fats, as they all increase the risk of several cancers.'

Dr Panagiota Mitrou, Head of Research Funding at World Cancer Research Fund International, said: 'We normally link high blood pressure and high levels of blood sugar and blood fats with heart disease or diabetes. But this large study shows that these factors, which are linked with a poor diet and inactive lifestyle, can also increase the risk of several types of cancer when combined.

'It adds to the evidence that if we want to avoid developing cancer – let alone other diseases – we all need to eat healthily, stay in shape and be more active.

'By making healthy lifestyle changes, we could prevent about a third of the most common cancers every year.'

Lead researcher, Professor Pär Stattin, received two grants from World Cancer Research Fund International's Research Grant Programme to conduct the study - an initial grant and an additional grant to expand on the research.