Weight gain as a teenager linked to aggressive prostate cancer later

Love your beer and burger lifestyle? Weight gain is linked with aggressive and fatal prostate cancer.

Love your beer and burger lifestyle? Weight gain is linked with aggressive and fatal prostate cancer. Photo: Getty

Hello teen boys and young men. Hate to be a spoilsport, but please cut back on the fats, sugars and salts, and go for a daily walk.

Let’s get that waistline down!

I’m not getting into a rave about diabetes, or your heart. They’re boring, right? Nothing to do with you and your feelings of immortality.

But what about wearing a nappy for a year or so? And finding that life in your underpants has slackened and may never return.

Got your attention now?

Teenage boys and men in their 20s who put on half a kilo of weight each year are at greater risk of dying from prostate cancer later in life.

According to research presented at the European Congress on Obesity, held in Dublin two weeks ago, “weight gain over the course of a man’s life was associated with developing prostate cancer overall and aggressive and fatal prostate cancer”.

The link with aggressive and fatal prostate cancer “was driven by weight gain between the ages of 17 and 29”.

This was the main finding of a decades-long study involving more than 250,000 men in Sweden.

Australia’s most-diagnosed cancer

Last year, prostate cancer overtook breast cancer as Australia’s most common cancer.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated 24,217 Australian men would be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2022. This compared to 20,640 women diagnosed with breast cancer.

The forecast is a 34 per cent increase on the previous year.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia said the latest estimates “also suggest more than 3500 men will die from prostate cancer this year”.

The foundation described the situation “as a wake-up call”.

Modifiable risks

Dr Marisa da Silva, is a researcher in the Department of Translational Medicine, Lund University. She is also a co-author of the new study, which is yet to be peer reviewed.

In a prepared statement, she said: “Knowing more about the factors that cause prostate cancer is key to preventing it.

“The only well-established risk factors, such as increasing age, a family history of the disease and several genetic markers, are not modifiable, making it vital to identify risk factors that can be changed.”

There is good evidence that, broadly speaking, excess body fat increases the risk of fatal prostate cancer. Body fat, of course, is modifiable

The study aimed to quantify that risk

To this end the researchers analysed data from 258,477 men whose weight had been measured at least three times between the ages of 17 and 60 years as part of the Obesity and Disease Development Sweden (ODDS) study.

The men, who were free of prostate cancer when they enrolled in the ODDS from 1963 to 2014, were followed up until 2019. The median follow-up was 43 years.

The researchers looked at how many participants were diagnosed with prostate cancer.

They looked at how many died from the disease, and what was their arc of weight gain from early to later life.

Weight gain was greatest early in life

It was an average of 0.73 kilograms per year at 17 to 29 years.

On average, the weight gain trailed off during middle age to adulthood.

The participants were still putting on weight, but not as much as they had as younger men.

From the ages of 45 to 60 years they put on an average 0.22 kilograms per year.

Weight gain was associated with both the development of prostate cancer and its aggressiveness.

Weight gain of more than half a kilogram per year – compared to stable weight across a man’s life – was associated with a 10 per cent greater risk of aggressive prostate cancer and a 29 per cent greater risk of fatal prostate cancer.

Further analysis showed that this link was being driven by weight gain between the ages of 17 and 29 years.

Previous research

Dr da Silva said that previous research had “implicated elevated concentrations of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1)”.

This is a hormone that is involved in cell growth and development, “with an increased risk of prostate cancer”.

Dr da Silva that levels of this hormone are raised in people with obesity. A steep increase in weight may fuel this elevation and the development of the cancer.

Is it the gaining or the carrying?

Dr da Silva adds: “We do not know if it is the weight gain itself or the long duration of being heavier that is the main driver of the association that we see.

“Nevertheless, one must gain weight to become heavier, so preventing a steep increase in weight in young men is imperative for the prevention of prostate cancer.”

According to VicHealth: It is projected that by 2025 about 83 per cent of Australian men and 75 per cent of women aged 20 years and over will be overweight or obese.

When combined with population growth projections, this equates to 16.9 million Australians being overweight or obese in 2025.

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