Caring Currents

High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, Diabetes -- and Cancer?

Last updated: Oct 15, 2008


The annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology featured a presentation by researchers who found that those with metabolic syndrome -- a  cluster of conditions including hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes or pre-diabetes -- were 75 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer as those without this condition. (Patient education materials about metabolic syndrome often emphasize caution if you're an "apple" shape, because abdominal fat is a major clue to this condition.)

People with metabolic syndrome are already considered to be at higher risk for heart disease and stroke, so this merely adds to the list of things we need to be concerned about if those we're caring for are overweight or obese and suffer from these related conditions.

Using data on 58,000 people collected during the annual National Health Interview Survey, a team led by Donald Garrow and Mark Delegge of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston found that out of 1,182 people who met the criteria for metabolic syndrome, 350 reported a history of colorectal cancer. After controlling for factors such as age, gender, race, obesity, smoking, and alcohol use, researchers found this translated into a 75 percent higher risk than among the total population.

Experts already knew of the connection between metabolic syndrome and colon cancer, but previous studies had been much smaller and less definitive. The researchers released the results with a plea to doctors and patients to make sure those who suffer from metabolic syndrome receive regular screening tests for colorectal cancer.

This follows some other big news just a few days ago that the government has issued new guidelines for colorectal cancer screening.

These are:

  • A fecal occult blood test --- a test for hidden blood in the stool -- once a year:
  • flexible sigmoidoscopy -- an examination of the lower colon and rectum with a lighted scope -- every five years
  • colonoscopy -- an examination of the entire colon with a lighted scope -- every ten years

In addition, the government also recommends:

  • A double contrast barium enema: X-rays of the colon and rectum enhanced with a barium enema -- every five years
  • Or a virtual colonoscopy (computed tomographic colonography) -- a 3D x-ray of the colon -- every five years

In another newsmaking development, the new guidelines recommend against regular screening for those age 75 and older. This is because experts have concluded that the risks outweigh the benefits among the elderly, in whom cancer grows much more slowly.

So now we have an interesting dilemma, given the news about the risk from metabolic syndrome. Personally, if I or someone I'm caring for were over 75 and had metabolic syndrome, given these findings I'd want to continue screening for cancer. Certainly this is something to discuss thoroughly with your doctor.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Andreas Kolleger used under the Creative Commons Attribution License .