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Too Much Sitting Tied to Risks for Certain Cancers

Those with the most chair time had worse odds for colon, endometrial cancers, re
searchers suggest
WebMD News from HealthDay
By Brenda Goodman
HealthDay Reporter
MONDAY, June 16, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- You may want to stand up to read this.
A new study suggests that people who spend the bulk of their day sitting -- whet
her behind the wheel, in front of the TV or working at a computer -- appear to h
ave an increased risk for certain kinds of cancers.
Previous studies have tied too much time spent sedentary to a variety of health
problems, including heart disease, blood clots, a large waistline, higher blood
sugar and insulin, generally poor physical functioning, and even early death.
For the new study, researchers zeroed in on 43 studies that specifically looked
at the link between sitting and nearly 70,000 cases of cancer.
After combining the results from individual studies -- a statistical tool that h
elps to reveal trends in research -- there was good news and bad news.
The good news? Being sedentary did not appear to be linked to every kind of canc
er. Scientists found no relationship between sitting and breast, ovarian, testic
ular or prostate cancers, or cancers of the stomach, esophagus and kidneys, or n
on-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The bad news was that there did seem to be a consistent relationship between hou
rs spent sitting and an increased risk for colon and endometrial cancers.
People who spent the most time sitting during the day had a 24 percent increased
risk of getting colon cancer compared to those who logged the least number of h
ours in a chair, according to the study.
When the researchers looked just at time spent watching TV, the risk jumped even
more. Those who clocked the most hours glued to the tube had a 54 percent incre
ased risk of colon cancer compared to those who watched the least.
That may be because viewers tend to consume unhealthy snacks and drinks while wa
tching TV, said study author Daniela Schmid, an epidemiologist at the University
of Regensburg in Germany.
For endometrial -- or uterine -- cancer, the risks were even higher. There was a
32 percent increased risk for women who spent the most time seated compared to
those who sat the least, and a 66 percent increased risk for those who watched t
he most TV, the study authors said.
Moreover, every two-hour increase in sitting time was linked to an 8 percent inc
reased risk of colon cancer and a 10 percent increased risk of endometrial cance
The risks remained even for "active couch potatoes" -- folks who squeeze in some
time at the gym but still spend most of their day off their feet. This suggests
that regular exercise can't offset the risks of too much sitting, the study aut
hors said.
The findings, published June 16 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute,
make sense to Dr. Graham Colditz. He's the associate director for prevention an
d control at Washington University's Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.
"High blood sugar and high insulin is a clear sort of pathway to colon cancer, a
nd we know from intervention studies that walking lowers insulin and getting up
after meals lowers blood sugar compared to sitting," said Colditz, who was not i
nvolved in the research.
As for endometrial cancer, "Obesity is a phenomenally strong cause. In fact, it
is the main modifiable risk factor for endometrial cancer," he said.
"So for me, the likely scenario there is that the sitting, the weight gain and o
besity really go together and exacerbate the risk of endometrial cancer," he add
Because the studies included in the review only looked at broad relationships, t
hey can't prove that sitting, by itself, causes cancer. But the findings appeare
d to be remarkably consistent across studies, so Colditz thinks they should be t
aken seriously.
The study authors agree.
"Cutting down on TV viewing and sedentary time is just as important as becoming
more active," said Schmid. "For those whose jobs require them to sit at a desk m
ost of the day, we recommend breaking up the time spent sitting by incorporating
short bouts of light activity into the daily routine," she added.
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SOURCES: Daniela Schmid, Ph.D., epidemiologist, department of epidemiology and p
reventive medicine, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany; Graham Coldit
z, M.D., DrPH, associate director, prevention and control, Siteman Cancer Center
, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.; June 16, 2014, Journal of the National
Cancer Institute
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