Visceral obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and cancer

Type Article

Journal Article


S. L. Doyle; C. L. Donohoe; J. Lysaght; J. V. Reynolds

Year of publication



Proc Nutr Soc








This paper presents emerging evidence linking visceral adiposity and the metabolic syndrome (MetSyn) with carcinogenesis. The link between obesity and cancer has been clearly identified in a multitude of robust epidemiological studies. Research is now focusing on the role of visceral adipose tissue in carcinogenesis; as it is recognised as an important metabolic tissue that secretes factors that systemically alter the immunological, metabolic and endocrine milieu. Excess visceral adipose tissue gives rise to a state of chronic systemic inflammation with associated insulin resistance and dysmetabolism, collectively known as the MetSyn. Prospective cohort studies have shown associations between visceral adiposity, the MetSyn and increased risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer and oesophageal adenocarcinoma. Furthermore, visceral adiposity and the MetSyn have been associated with increased tumour progression and reduced survival. The mechanisms by which visceral adiposity and the MetSyn are thought to promote tumorigenesis are manifold. These include alterations in adipokine secretion and cell signalling pathways. In addition, hyperinsulinaemia, subsequent insulin resistance and stimulation of the insulin-like growth factor-1 axis have all been linked with visceral adiposity and promote tumour progression. Furthermore, the abundance of inflammatory cells in visceral adipose tissue, including macrophages and T-cells, create systemic inflammation and a pro-tumorigenic environment. It is clear from current research that excess visceral adiposity and associated dysmetabolism play a central role in the pathogenesis of certain cancer types. Further research is required to elucidate the exact mechanisms at play and identify potential targets for intervention.