Do you have a beer belly? Men with large waists and high body mass index (BMI) have greater risks of developing aggressive prostate cancer and dying from it than their counterparts, new research in Europe suggests.

Researchers from the University of Oxford examined records of more than 140,000 men with an average age of 50 from eight different countries in the course of 14 years. During this time, there were 7,000 cases of prostate cancer, with 934 deaths.

The Oxford team found that waist circumference and BMI were strongly linked to high-level prostate cancer and prostate cancer-related death, with the risks increasing by more than 10 percent as the belly fat or adiposity increases.

More specifically, a 4-inch or larger waist size could boost the chances of getting prostate cancer by 13 percent. Males who had waistlines bigger than 37 inches were most at risk, researchers said.

Dr. Aurora Perez-Cornago, the lead author of the study, says the findings reveal that the link between body size and prostate cancer was complex and differed by the aggressiveness of the disease. She says this was probably caused by cancer-causing hormones in fat cells, although this has not yet been proven.

Another notable finding from the research is that the overall risk of prostate cancer was actually lower for men with higher BMI and men with larger waistlines.

Perez-Cornago says there were indeed differences in incidence by cancer grade, and so it forced them to divide the study in two: those who had high-grade prostate cancer, and those who had low-grade prostate cancer. She says the study cannot take into account the result for total prostate cancer risk.

Perez-Cornago also notes that overall risk of prostate cancer in men with greater belly fat is lower, and is driven by a lower risk of low-grade disease. They have yet to understand why this happens.

Researchers highlighted the fact that their findings are aligned with health advice for all non-communicable diseases.

"Men should try to maintain a healthy weight," researchers wrote.

Indeed, a spokesperson for Prostate Cancer UK says keeping a healthy weight and staying active can help against many diseases. Previous research suggests that weight training could help get rid of belly fat.

The details of the study were presented at the European Obesity Summit this year.

Photo: Tony Alter | Flickr

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