Fat-clogged cells explain why obesity can cause cancer

Scientists have discovered that excess fat can prevent the body from fighting cancer, which could explain why obese people are said to be more likely to develop the disease.

A type of cell the body uses to destroy cancerous tissue gets clogged by fat and stops working, the team from Trinity College, Dublin, found.

The new findings have been published in the Nature Immunology paper.

Obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking, Cancer Research UK says.

More than one in 20 cancer cases – which equates to about 22,800 cases each year in the UK, are caused by excess body weight.


Speaking about the research, Professor Lydia Lynch said:

A compound that can block the fat uptake by natural killer cells might help. We tried it in the lab and found it allowed them to kill again. But arguably a better way would be to lose some weight – because that is healthier for you anyway.


Dr Leo Carlin, from the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, said:

Although we know that obesity increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer, we still don’t fully understand the mechanisms underlying the link.

This study reveals how fat molecules prevent immune cells from properly positioning their tumour-killing machinery, and provides new avenues to investigate treatments.

A lot of research focuses on how tumours grow in order to find metabolic targets to stop them, so this is a reminder that we should consider the metabolism of immune cells too.


Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 or over.

A healthy person’s BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again is between 18.5 and 24.9.

The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7billion budget every year. This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers. This includes breast cancer, which affects one in eight women at some point during their lives.


Things you can do to lower your risk include:

  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Cut back on alcohol
  • Avoid sunburn


At Cignpost, we regularly focus on what people can do to prevent disease and illnesses before it gets to that critical point. Wellness is a key part of the product strategy.

Keeping fit, eating healthily, drinking no more than the recommended amount and not smoking can all give you the best chance of avoiding many diseases and also maintaining a healthy weight.



Text References

BBC News. (2018). Fat-clogged cells explain why obesity can cause cancer. Accessible: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-46179118. Last Accessed: 13 November 2018.

Chalmers, V. Mail Online. (2018). Obesity puts you more at risk of cancer ‘because fat clogs up and slows down the cells that fight off the disease’. Accessible: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6380687/Obesity-puts-risk-cancer-fat-clogs-killer-cells-fight-off.html. Last Accessed: 13 November 2018.

Lansdowne, L – Technology Networks. (2018). ‘Fat-clogged’ Immune Cells Fail to Fight Tumors. Accessible: https://www.technologynetworks.com/cancer-research/news/obesity-and-cancer-fat-clogged-immune-cells-fail-to-fight-tumors-311744. Last Accessed: 13 November 2018.