Report links obesity to advanced prostate cancer

Behind the Headlines

Wednesday November 19 2014

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men

Obesity may cause inflammation of the prostate

"Being overweight raises risk of men developing aggressive prostate cancer," The Guardian reports.

A major new report from the World Cancer Research Fund has found strong evidence obesity increases the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.

This report, which considered the results from 104 studies involving more than nine million men, looked at diet, nutrition, physical activity, weight and the risk of prostate cancer.

It also found strong evidence that being tall – a marker of developmental factors in the womb, childhood and adolescence – increases the risk of prostate cancer.

The report found limited evidence for a link between diets high in dairy products or calcium and an increased risk of prostate cancer, and low blood levels of vitamin E or selenium and an increased risk of developing cancer. 

The report recommends maintaining a healthy weighteating a healthy diet and being physically active to reduce your risk of cancer. These recommendations seem both sensible and well founded.


How could obesity lead to prostate cancer?

The report offers two, as yet unproven, hypotheses:

  • obesity could change the hormonal make-up of the body, creating an environment favourable to the development of prostate cancer
  • obesity could lead to inflammation of the prostate, which could lead to tissue changes that trigger the onset of cancer

Who produced the report?

The report was produced by the World Cancer Research Fund International as part of their Continuous Update Project.

This report aims to update a report from 2007 by analysing global prostate cancer prevention and survival research linked to diet, nutrition, physical activity and weight.

The results were well reported by the media.


What evidence did the report look at?

The report is based on the findings of a systematic review performed by a team at Imperial College London, and its interpretation by a panel of independent experts.

The systematic review included randomised controlled trials, and cohort and case-control studies identified from the Medline database.

The results from 104 studies were analysed. This included more than nine million men, 191,000 of whom had prostate cancer.


What are the main findings of the report?

The report found strong evidence that:

  • being overweight or obese (measured by body mass index [BMI], waist circumference, or waist-hip ratio) increases the risk of advanced prostate cancer (advanced, high-grade, or fatal prostate cancer)
  • developmental factors in the womb, childhood and adolescence that influence growth are linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer – for example, taller men are at an increased risk of prostate cancer
  • beta-carotene, a pigment found in certain plants and fruits (consumed from diet or supplements), had no substantial effect on the risk of prostate cancer

There was limited evidence that:

  • higher consumption of dairy products increases the risk of prostate cancer
  • diets high in calcium increase the risk of prostate cancer
  • low plasma (blood) alpha-tocopherol concentration (vitamin E) increases the risk of prostate cancer
  • low plasma (blood) selenium concentration increases the risk of prostate cancer

The report made no conclusions about whether a number of other factors increased or decreased the risk of prostate cancer. For example:

  • cereals (grains) and their products
  • dietary fibre
  • potatoes
  • non-starchy vegetables
  • fruits
  • pulses (legumes)
  • processed meat
  • red meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • eggs
  • total fat

This is not an exhaustive list. For the complete list, you can download the report for free (PDF, 2.49Mb).

No conclusions were made because the studies identified were either poor quality, their results were inconsistent, or too few studies were identified.

Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.

Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 0 ratings

All ratings

0  ratings
0  ratings
0  ratings
0  ratings
0  ratings

Add your rating

Prostate cancer expert

Dr Chris Parker talks about who's most at risk of prostate cancer, the questions to ask if you're diagnosed, and the treatment options.

Media last reviewed: 22/01/2016

Next review due: 22/01/2018

What is Behind the Headlines?

What is Behind the Headlines?

We give you the facts without the fiction. Professor Sir Muir Gray, founder of Behind the Headlines, explains more...

Follow us on Twitter

Join more than 160,000 who follow @NHSChoices for the latest and best health news and lifestyle advice

Your NHS Health Check

Millions of people have already had their free 'midlife MOT'. Find out why this health check-up is so important

Why sitting too much is bad for your health

Evidence suggests sitting for too long is bad for you, no matter how much exercise you do

Prostate health

Every man has one, it's important to their sex life, yet few men know anything about their prostate or what can go wrong with it