A number of studies indicate that a growing list of cancers may be influenced by obesity. In obese individuals these cancers can be more frequent and more aggressive resulting in reduced survival. One of the most prominent and well characterized cancers in this regard is breast cancer. Obesity plays a complex role in breast cancer and is associated with increased inflammation, angiogenesis and alterations in serum levels of potential growth factors such as insulin, adiponectin, leptin and estrogen. Reduced levels of serum adiponectin have been reported in breast cancer patients compared to healthy controls, particularly in postmenopausal women and the level of adiponectin has been shown to be inversely associated with insulin resistance. The role of serum leptin levels in breast cancer appears to be more complex. Some studies have shown leptin to be increased in women with breast cancer but other studies have found leptin to be decreased or unchanged. This may be due to a number of confounding issues. We and others propose that it may be the levels of adiponectin and leptin as well as the balance of adiponectin and leptin that are the critical factors in breast and other obesity related cancer tumorigenesis. This review will focus on the current understanding of the interplay between obesity and the functions of leptin and adiponectin. It will then examine what is known about their potential roles in cancer particularly as pertains to breast cancer and how the ratio of adiponectin to leptin may play a role in tumorigenesis.
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