Body Mass Index and Cancer Risk: The Evidence for Causal Association
Andrew G. Renehan*, 1, Matthias Egger2, Marcel Zwahlen2
Identifiers and Pagination:Year: 2010
First Page: 12
Last Page: 22
Publisher Id: TOOBESJ-2-12
Article History:Received Date: 22/04/2009
Revision Received Date: 16/06/2009
Acceptance Date: 16/06/2009
Electronic publication date: 14/7/2010
Collection year: 2010
open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode. This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Increased body mass index (BMI), as an approximation of body adiposity, is a risk factor for developing several adult malignancies. To quantify these risks, we reported a comprehensive systematic review (Lancet 2008; 371: 569-78) of prospective observational studies determining associations between BMI and risk of incident cancer for 20 cancer types. We demonstrated that associations are: (i) sex-specific; (ii) exist for a wider range of malignancies than previously thought; and (iii) are broadly consistent across geographic populations. In the present paper, we tested these data against the Bradford-Hill criteria of causal association, and argue that the available data support strength of association, consistency, specificity, temporality, biological gradient, plausibility, coherence and probably analogy. However, the experimental evidence supporting reversibility is currently lacking, though indirect evidence from longitudinal data in cohort studies and long-term follow-up post-bariatric surgery is emerging. We additionally assessed these data against appropriate adjustment for available confounding factors; measurement error and study design; and residual confounding; and found lack of alternative explanations. We conclude that there is considerable evidence to support a causal association between BMI and risk for many cancer types, but in order to establish the role of weight control in cancer prevention, there is a need to develop trial frameworks in which to better test reversibility.