Belly fat affects survival rate in women with kidney cancer—but not men

New research from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that belly fat affects women's odds of surviving kidney cancer, but it does not impact the survival rate of men, according to an April 3 news release.  

“We’re just beginning to study sex as an important variable in cancer,” said senior author Joseph Ippolito, MD, PhD, an instructor in radiology at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University School of Medicine, in a prepared statement. “Men and women have very different metabolisms. A tumor growing in a man’s body is in a different environment than one growing inside a woman, so it’s not surprising that the cancers behave differently between the sexes.” 

Researchers found by performing cross-sectional CT scans that half of female kidney cancer patients participating in the study with high amounts of visceral belly fat at diagnosis died within 3.5 years, while more than half of women analyzed with little belly fat were still alive more than a decade later. In contrast, abdominal fat in male kidney cancer patients made no difference in survival rates.  

Particularly, the study suggests that how long a woman will survive after diagnosis is related not to total body fat but instead the distribution of body fat.  

“Our data suggests that there is a potential synergy between the patient’s visceral fat and the metabolism of their tumor," Ippolito said. "That can be a starting point to figure out how to better treat women with kidney cancer. We would not have discovered this if we had been looking at men and women together.” 

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