Tag Archives: stem cells

Is Being Fat Killing Us?

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A new report addresses many novel and intriguing aspects of the relationship between cancer, cancer stem cells, and adipocytes (fat cells).

Fat (adipose) tissue has been suggested to play a direct role in resistance to cancer treatment. Obese (body mass index or BMI > 25) patients with leukemia have shown poor survival outcomes relative to non-obese patients (see 2010 ,M.A. Lichtman Oncologist, 15, pp. 1083–110). When one has cancer, traditionally there was weight loss. This was termed cachexia,a common and historically long-recognized hallmark of advanced cancer. Breakdown of adipose tissue through the action of pro-inflammatory cytokines leading to tissue atrophy occurs as part of cancer-induced cachexia. This dramatic metabolic disturbance was assumed to benefit the tumor at the expense of the normal tissue. These changes are only beginning to be more fully explored.

A recent mouse study found that leukemia cells utilized fat to hide away from the immune system. Numerous leukemia cells were found in gonadal addipose tissue (GAT), which is the largest visceral fat depot in mice, but not in subcutaneous fat deposits. The leukemia cells were located directly adjacent to adipocytes throughout the tissue. Even more worrisome, these phenotypically defined GAT-resident leukemic stem cells gave rise to leukemia at frequencies comparable to bone-marrow-derived leukemia stem cells. This established that adipose (fat) tissue can function as a reservoir for this cancer. As the mice’s leukemia progressed, atrophy of GAT was noted before the development of full-blown cachexia (weight loss).

Adipose tissue has previously been identified as an extra-medullary reservoir for normal hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and may promote tumor development.

As a cancer survivor and as a surgeon who treats head and neck cancer, I encourage you to be lean and fit. Maybe it will keep that cancer at bay or from recurring? You will feel and look better while fighting to keep away a disease that 50% of the population will get, cancer.