Overweight couple standing together wrapped with waist measure tape

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BRISTOL, United Kingdom — Is there really a body shape that is more prone to cancer? Researchers in the United Kingdom say the answer may depend on your gender. A new study finds cancer risk varies for the sexes, with an apple shape of abdominal fat being worse for women and overall fat worse for men.

Researchers examined the genes of over 100,000 people and discovered differences in the effect body fat measures play on bowel cancer risk.

According to the American Cancer Society, bowel (or colorectal) cancer is the third most common form of the disease in the United States for both men and women. It is also the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the country. Health officials expect more than 53,000 people to die from bowel cancer in 2020.

Adding more nuance to cancer diagnoses

The team at the University of Bristol and the International Agency for Research on Cancer say women with a higher waist-to-hip ratio have a 25 percent increased risk of developing bowel cancer. The results also reveal a higher BMI for men increases cancer risk, but the risk varied with women depending where the fat is proportioned.

Men putting on an average of 20 pounds over their usual weight raised their chances for bowl cancer by 23 percent. However, this increase is only nine percent for women.

“Our study, which is the largest to look at the difference between body fat and colorectal cancer risk in men and women, reveals the need for a more nuanced approach when trying to prevent cancer,” says Dr. Emma Vincent from the University of Bristol in a university release. “We are now working to understand exactly how increased body fat causes colorectal cancer, which may give us new targets for reducing risk. This is important because maintaining weight loss is still very difficult.”

“We know that being overweight or obese increases the risk of at least 12 different types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.,” adds Dr. Anna Diaz Font, Head of Research funding at World Cancer Research Fund International. “But this new research reinforces how important it is to include a wide and diverse range of people in research studies, as we don’t yet fully know the differences gender or race may play when it comes to risk of cancer.”

A healthy diet can help reduce your cancer risk

Researchers say there are ways to cut the risk of developing colorectal cancer. It all starts with lowering your weight through a better diet and cutting out harmful habits.

“It’s well established that keeping a healthy weight affects many types of cancer,” Natasha Paton from Cancer Research UK explains. “Most research linking excess weight to cancer uses BMI, but this study adds to the evidence that carrying excess fat around the waist is also important.”

“People can reduce their risk of bowel cancer by keeping a healthy weight, eating a diet with lots of fiber and less red and processed meat, drinking less alcohol, and not smoking,” Paton says. “Diagnosing bowel cancer early saves lives, so if you notice any changes that aren’t normal for you tell your doctor. And we’d encourage people to consider taking up bowel cancer screening when invited.”

The study was published in BMC Medicine.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

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