Metabolic syndrome: A risky mix of concerning conditions 

While it may sound to many like a singular health condition, metabolic syndrome is  actually an umbrella term for a group of five conditions that often occur together. Those  conditions include abdominal obesity (or “having an apple-shaped body”), high blood  sugar, high blood pressure, high levels of triglyceride (a type of fat) in the blood and low  levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good cholesterol”) in the blood. Further, among those  who are aware of it, the syndrome is most known for contributing to health problems  such as type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. But this cluster of conditions can  also increase the risk for another serious threat to patients’ health (and lives): cancer. 

Why might metabolic syndrome increase cancer risk? 

“There are several studies that have clearly linked obesity (and metabolic syndrome)  to an increased risk of cancer,” says Shannon Haenel, DO, of Wilmington Health’s  Department of Oncology and Hematology, who has completed a range of clinical research on hematology/oncology-related topics including breast cancer, thoracic  malignancies, lymphoma, head and neck cancers, and cardiac masses. “There are  multiple types of cancer that patients with metabolic syndrome may be at increased risk  for. There is not a clear understanding as to one single mechanism that is responsible  for this increased risk, though. It is likely a multifactorial process.  

“With metabolic syndrome, there is typically a component of insulin resistance,” Dr.  Haenel continues. “This can cause different pathways to be activated that may increase  cancer cell growth. There is also typically an increase in circulating estrogen. This can  certainly increase cancers such as breast cancer in females.  

“Further, metabolic syndrome results in an overall increase in inflammation in the  body. This can impact cell growth and can also impact the immune system’s ability to  properly fight cancer. Not only does this increase cancer risk, but patients with  metabolic syndrome may have poorer outcomes and tolerance to cancer therapies.  Given the obesity crisis in our country, ongoing research is needed in regard to  metabolic syndrome’s impact on the body so we can find better therapies to combat its  complications.” 

What can patients do about it?

“Patients and their physicians need to be aware of the increased risk,” Dr. Haenel  says. “They need to ensure that they are staying up to date with all recommended  cancer screenings.  

“Obviously, treatment of metabolic syndrome is also essential,” Dr. Haenel continues. “Patients need to work closely with their primary care providers to treat all components  of metabolic syndrome. Eating a balanced diet and exercising has been the cornerstone  of a healthy lifestyle for years. This certainly needs to be implemented for everyone to  have better overall health.  

“However, for some patients, even this is not enough to address their obesity and its  complications,” Dr. Haenel says. “These patients should work with their physicians to  determine if there are other options such as medical or surgical weight loss that may be  right for them. Obesity medicine is a growing field, and education/recognition that this is  a disease — not simply a choice — is essential. We need to take the stigma out of the  term obesity/metabolic syndrome and provide treatment for this disorder like we would  any other. Between this and truly living a healthy lifestyle, patient outcomes will  improve.” 

Taking Action: What You Can Do 

  • Awareness of increased cancer risk is essential for patients and physicians. – Regular cancer screenings are crucial for early detection. 
  • Treating metabolic syndrome is paramount and should involve collaboration with  healthcare providers. 
  • Lifestyle changes, including a balanced diet and exercise, are fundamental for  overall health. 
  • For some patients, additional options like medical or surgical weight loss may be  necessary. 
  • Education is key: Obesity is a disease, not just a lifestyle choice. 
  • Removing the stigma and providing comprehensive treatment are essential steps  toward better outcomes. 

For comprehensive cancer care, turn to Wilmington Health 

When patients are facing a cancer diagnosis, they and their loved ones want to know  that they’re getting the best care for their condition from the most qualified providers  available. And at Wilmington Health Oncology and Hematology, we’ve modeled our  cancer-treatment plans after evidence-based standards set by the National  Comprehensive Cancer Network — so our plans replicate those used at cancer centers  nationwide. We diagnose and treat a wide variety of cancers, and our top priority is  helping our patients get through their illness with the care and compassion they  deserve. 

To learn more about Wilmington Health’s oncology and hematology providers,  services and locations, visit our website today.