The increasing rate of obesity worldwide is predicted to be associated with a surge in diseases. Notably, obesity has been linked to approximately 20% of cancer cases in the United States; obesity is associated with both increased risk and worse outcomes after diagnosis. Altered levels of circulating factors are strongly implicated including insulin, insulin-like growth factor 1, leptin, adiponectin and interleukin-6 (IL-6). Additionally, increasing attention has focused on the consequences of local adipose inflammation. Inflammatory foci characterized by crown-like structures consisting of dead adipocytes encircled by macrophages occur in white adipose depots, including the breast tissue, of most overweight and obese women. Saturated fatty acids, released as a consequence of obesity-associated lipolysis, induce macrophage activation via Toll-like receptor 4, thereby stimulating NFκB signaling. This, in turn, activates transcription of proinflammatory genes including cyclooxygenase-2, IL-6, IL-1β, and tumor necrosis factor α. Elevated levels of proinflammatory mediators cause both local and systemic effects. Of particular relevance with regard to breast cancer is increased transcription of the CYP19 gene encoding aromatase, the rate-limiting enzyme for estrogen synthesis. Notably, this obesity-inflammation-aromatase axis provides a plausible explanation for increased rates of post-menopausal, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer associated with obesity and hence may offer targets for interventions to attenuate risk or improve prognosis. Potential approaches include weight reduction, exercise, and suppression of obesity-driven signaling pathways using pharmaceutical or dietary agents. A key future goal is to identify biomarkers that accurately report adipose inflammation, both for identification of at-risk individuals and to assess the efficacy of interventions.
- Received July 2, 2013.
- Revision received July 18, 2013.
- Accepted August 7, 2013.
- Copyright © 2013, American Association for Cancer Research.