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Weight gain linked to prostate cancer death

NEW YORK - Excess weight may not raise a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer, but it may make him more likely to die of the disease, researchers reported Monday.

In a study of nearly 288,000 U.S. men, researchers found that obese men were actually less likely than their thinner counterparts to develop prostate cancer during the five-year study period.

However, the heavier a man was, the greater his risk of dying from the disease.

Dr. Margaret Wright and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute report the findings in the journal Cancer.

Past studies have come to conflicting conclusions about the role of excess weight in prostate cancer. While some have suggested that increased weight is a risk factor for the disease, most have found no relationship.

The new study followed 287,760 men 50 to 71 starting in 1995. At the outset, the men completed a questionnaire about their overall health, diet and lifestyle habits, height and weight.

Over the next five years, 9,986 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Severely obese men had the lowest risk of developing the disease.

When it came to prostate cancer deaths, however, the risk climbed in tandem with a man’s weight. Overweight men were 25 percent more likely than thin men to die, while obese men were 46 percent more likely.

Similarly, the amount of weight a man gained through adulthood was unrelated to his prostate cancer risk. But greater weight gain was linked to a higher risk of death from the disease.

According to the researchers, hormones might help explain why excess fat would be linked to prostate cancer death, but not development. Obesity lowers levels of testosterone, which helps fuel prostate cancer, so excess weight may help prevent the disease in the first place.

On the other hand, Wright and her colleagues explain, heavy men have higher levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 and leptin — two hormones that may aid the progression of tumors. So once an overweight man develops prostate cancer, it may be more likely to prove fatal.

The findings, they conclude, suggest that prostate cancer progression could be added to list of health consequences of obesity.