Metabolic Syndrome Linked to Cancer

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
April 16, 2024
Overweight woman talking to doctor about lab results

Metabolic syndrome is the term used to describe a cluster of risk factors – obesity (particularly excess abdominal fat), high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low good cholesterol (HDL), and insulin resistance -- that raise the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, kidney disease and sleep apnea. The condition is quite common; in fact, one in three Americans have it. 

Unfortunately, that number is rising. Experts attribute this to an aging American population and increasing U.S. obesity rates. 

As you age, physiological changes that occur that can cause blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure to rise. It’s also common to become less active. And a sedentary lifestyle contributes to weight gain. This is problematic because obesity is a state of low-grade inflammation, which significantly contributes to many conditions, including metabolic syndrome.

For years, metabolic syndrome has been associated with cardiovascular disease. As of now, metabolic syndrome is on pace to replace smoking as the leading risk factor for heart attacks and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

That’s a huge problem. But it’s not the only one. 

Metabolic Syndrome and Cancer

There’s a link between metabolic syndrome and cancer, although it’s not fully understood. Experts believe that being overweight and obese causes chronic inflammation and elevates hormones involved in the metabolic process.

When our body breaks down the food we eat for energy – what we call metabolism — it generates oxygen radicals. These molecules can damage DNA, RNA and proteins, contributing to cell mutations that can cause cancer. For example, chronically high levels of insulin may raise your risk for breast, prostate and colorectal cancers, according to University of Texas/MD Anderson Cancer Center. And advancing metabolic syndrome has been associated with an increased risk of all cancers, according to a study published in Cancer, an international interdisciplinary journal of the American Cancer Society.

In this study, a research team lead by researchers from Capital Medical University (Beijing, China) analyzed data to see if metabolic syndrome raised cancer risks as it progressed. Results were based on nearly 45,000 Chinese adults, with an average age of 49, that were followed between 2006 and 2010. They had three full health examinations that included screenings for the components of metabolic syndrome, i.e., waist circumference, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, triglycerides and good cholesterol (HDLs) and didn’t have a history of cancer. Researchers found a significant association between progressing metabolic syndrome and breast cancer (primarily) but endometrial, kidney, colorectal and liver cancers as well.  

“This isn’t the first study to find a correlation between metabolic syndrome and cancer. An Indian study published in 2017 connected metabolic syndrome with breast cancer and a 2023 study from Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah linked metabolic syndrome with post-menopausal breast, colorectal, pancreatic and bladder cancers,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “The catalyst seems to be the obesity.”

What Can You Do?

Metabolic syndrome can possibly be prevented, controlled and even reversed, if you can:
•    Manage weight
•    Maintain heart health, including blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides
•    Control blood sugar
•    Get enough sleep
•    Eat a heart healthy diet
•    Exercise regularly
•    Take medications as directed

“It’s important to work with your primary care physician for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of metabolic syndrome and its individual components,” says Kaminetsky. “And of course to stay on top of cancer early detection screenings.”

If you don’t have a primary care doctor, consider joining an MDVIP-affiliated practice. MDVIP-affiliated doctors have the time to work with you to focus on your health and wellness. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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