Non-obese, metabolically unhealthy women have a higher risk for colorectal cancer than women who are metabolically healthy, as determined by a study recently published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.1

Inadequate metabolic health is usually associated with obesity. However, 30% of normal weight adults are estimated to be metabolically unhealthy. A person is considered to have metabolic syndrome if they have 3 of the following: elevated waist circumference, elevated blood pressure, elevated levels of glucose, elevated levels of triglycerides, or low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, often referred to as “good” cholesterol.

A research team lead by Xiaoyun Liang, MD, PhD, an associate professor at Beijing Normal University in China, collected data from 5068 postmenopausal women with normal body weight enrolled in the US Women’s Health Initiative. More than 33% of the women were determined to be metabolically unhealthy, which was defined as having 2 or more of the previous qualifications, except for elevated waist circumference.

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During a mean follow-up time of 14.3 years, 64 of the 3358 women who were classified as metabolically unhealthy developed colorectal cancer. After adjusting for influential factors the researchers concluded that metabolically unhealthy women had a 49% increased risk for colorectal cancer compared to women who were metabolically healthy. In addition, women with metabolic syndrome had a more than two-fold increased risk for colorectal cancer compared to metabolically healthy women.

Liang says that this work “highlights how important it is for women to be aware of their metabolic health status, which can be assessed using standard clinical tests. Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer for women in the United States. Recognition that normal-weight women who are metabolically unhealthy may have an increased risk for colorectal cancer could result in more timely use of preventive interventions and reduce the burden of this deadly disease.”


1. Xiaoyun L, Margolis KL, Hendryx M, et al. Metabolic phenotype and risk of colorectal cancer in normal-weight postmenopausal women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2017 Feb 1. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-16-0761 [Epub ahead of print]