Obesity and cancer mechanisms: Tumor microenvironment and inflammation

Neil M. Iyengar, Ayca Gucalp, Andrew J. Dannenberg, Clifford A. Hudis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

476 Scopus citations


Purpose: There is growing evidence that inflammation is a central and reversible mechanism through which obesity promotes cancer risk and progression. Methods: We review recent findings regarding obesity-associated alterations in the microenvironment and the local and systemic mechanisms through which these changes support tumor growth. Results: Locally, hyperadiposity is associated with altered adipose tissue function, adipocyte death, and chronic low-grade inflammation. Most individuals who are obese harbor inflamed adipose tissue, which resembles chronically injured tissue, with immune cell infiltration and remodeling. Within this distinctly altered local environment, several pathophysiologic changes are found that may promote breast and other cancers. Consistently, adipose tissue inflammation is associated with a worse prognosis in patients with breast and tongue cancers. Systemically, the metabolic syndrome, including dyslipidemia and insulin resistance, occurs in the setting of adipose inflammation and operates in concert with local mechanisms to sustain the inflamed microenvironment and promote tumor growth. Importantly, adipose inflammation and its protumor consequences can be found in some individuals who are not considered to be obese or overweight by body mass index. Conclusion: The tumor-promoting effects of obesity occur at the local level via adipose inflammation and associated alterations in the microenvironment, as well as systemically via circulating metabolic and inflammatory mediators associated with adipose inflammation. Accurately characterizing the obese state and identifying patients at increased risk for cancer development and progression will likely require more precise assessments than body mass index alone. Biomarkers of adipose tissue inflammation would help to identify high-risk populations. Moreover, adipose inflammation is a reversible process and represents a novel therapeutic target that warrants further study to break the obesity-cancer link.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4270-4276
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Clinical Oncology
Issue number35
StatePublished - Dec 10 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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