U links obesity to blood cancer

Than Tibbetts

University researchers have found a link between obesity and one type of leukemia, adding to the list of diseases for which obesity is a risk factor.

The study, which is part of a larger University study on women’s health, showed that the risk for getting acute myelogenous leukemia was 90 percent higher for overweight women who are 55 and older.

Julie Ross, the lead researcher for the study, said there is a lot of speculation about why obesity is associated with an increased risk of leukemia. According to one theory, when people are obese, hormones change so that they could cause leukemia.

“What we need to do is to start getting more of a handle on why these associations are happening,” she said.

To do this, Ross said, she has proposed a large study in Minnesota that would look at whether genetic factors play a role in getting leukemia.

“Knowing that 65 percent of the population is overweight and obese, you just wonder what is going to happen 10 years from now with respect to incidences of cancer,” she said.

The 14-year study linked obesity to acute myelogenous leukemia, the most common form of leukemia according to American Cancer Society statistics. This type of leukemia begins in bone marrow and cells that normally become blood cells.

Professor David Bernlohr, who studies obesity and teaches medical students about metabolism, said that although he was not familiar with the study, he was not surprised by the results.

“People are finding all the time that diseases of energy metabolism can have profound effects on how the body functions,” he said.

Studies have already shown being overweight or obese are risk factors for other types of diseases, including diabetes and certain forms of cancer, such as breast, colon and kidney cancers.

Ross said the Midwest has some of the highest rates of leukemia in the country.

Bernlohr said it is increasingly clear obesity is more than just a weight problem.

According to the American Cancer Society, being overweight or obese, along with other lifestyle factors, will be related to approximately 180,000 cancer deaths expected this year.

“It just suggests that we need to treat obesity as a critical health issue for our country and that it is not simply a cosmetic issue, but it is a human health issue,” Bernlohr said.

Ross said obesity is not something that is out of people’s control.

“This is something people can do something about,” she said.