USC Researcher Probes Race/Ethnicity Roles in Obesity-Related Cancer Risk

Minorities with cancer may be more susceptible to complications of the disease, especially when obesity comes into play, according to research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2012.

“Different minorities have different susceptibilities to different cancers,” said Steven Mittelman, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, physiology & biophysics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC). “It is very clear that obesity is linked to cancer — obese people are 50 percent more likely to die from cancer than lean people — but not much research has been done on how race, ethnicity or economics may affect that association.”

Mittelman, who practices at USC-affiliated Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, discussed possible biological mechanisms that may drive the association at the AACR’s annual meeting, where more than 17,000 participants from 60 countries gather to discuss the latest breakthroughs in all fields of cancer research. This year’s meeting takes place March 31 to April 4 in Chicago.

Mittelman’s research has focused on obesity and cancer, specifically on how weight interacts with leukemia, the most common cancer in kids.

“Blacks and Hispanics, in particular, are especially hit by the obesity epidemic in the United States. Economic minorities have a higher risk for obesity, and minorities who are obese have an increased risk for complications. One of the complications of obesity is cancer,” Mittelman said.

Researchers are looking at the biological processes that link obesity and cancer. In Mittelman’s studies, it appears that fat cells protect leukemia cells from chemotherapy and actually help the cancer to proliferate.

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