Being thin on the outside but unhealthy on the inside increases bowel cancer risk

23 September 2016 | Healthy living, Science and research

Lucy Eccles - International Communications OfficerLucy is from World Cancer Research Fund's former press officer, reporting on the latest news.

Some of you may already know that maintaining a healthy weight is important for cancer prevention, but according to new research this may not be the whole story.

Slim on the outside but unhealthy on the inside

A study partly funded by World Cancer Research Fund has found for the first time that people who appear slim on the outside but have high insulin levels may have a greater risk of bowel cancer than people of the same weight but with normal insulin levels. At a time where bowel cancer is killing over 16,000 people a year in the UK, this is a particularly important finding.

Insulin is a hormone that controls the level of sugar in the blood and the amount of body fat that is stored. The results of this study suggest that the amount of insulin in your blood could be used as a tool alongside body mass index (BMI) to determine someone’s risk of bowel cancer. This could help identify those who are at the greatest risk of bowel cancer, who would benefit from targeted interventions to control their insulin levels.

What the scientist said

We caught up with Dr Marc Gunter, who worked on this study, he explained: “These results show for the first time that bowel cancer risk is associated with elevated insulin levels among lean people, as well as those with obesity. High insulin levels are common in obese individuals but less so in leaner people. We don’t know why the lean individuals had raised insulin levels but it could be due to poor diet or sedentary behaviour.”

What should I do?

Given this information, you might be wondering how best to reduce your risk of getting bowel cancer. Our research shows that nearly half (45%) of UK bowel cancer cases could be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding red or processed meat and not drinking alcohol.

So, it’s not all about how slim you are, you need to be healthy from the inside out.

Lucy Eccles | 23 September 2016