Adipose tissue, obesity and adipokines: role in cancer promotion

Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2015 Jan;21(1):57-74. doi: 10.1515/hmbci-2014-0037.


Adipose tissue is a complex organ with endocrine, metabolic and immune regulatory roles. Adipose depots have been characterized to release several adipocytokines that work locally in an autocrine and paracrine fashion or peripherally in an endocrine fashion. Adipocyte hypertrophy and excessive adipose tissue accumulation, as occurs during obesity, dysregulates the microenvironment within adipose depots and systemically alters peripheral tissue metabolism. The term "adiposopathy" is used to describe this promotion of pathogenic adipocytes and associated adipose - elated disorders. Numerous epidemiological studies confirm an association between obesity and various cancer forms. Proposed mechanisms that link obesity/adiposity to high cancer risk and mortality include, but are not limited to, obesity-related insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, sustained hyperglycemia, glucose intolerance, oxidative stress, inflammation and/or adipocktokine production. Several epidemiological studies have demonstrated a relationship between specific circulating adipocytokines and cancer risk. The aim of this review is to define the function, in normal weight and obesity states, of well-characterized and novel adipokines including leptin, adiponectin, apelin, visfatin, resistin, chemerin, omentin, nesfatin and vaspin and summarize the data that relates their dysfunction, whether associated or direct effects, to specific cancer outcomes. Overall research suggests most adipokines promote cancer cell progression via enhancement of cell proliferation and migration, inflammation and anti-apoptosis pathways, which subsequently can prompt cancer metastasis. Further research and longitudinal studies are needed to define the specific independent and additive roles of adipokines in cancer progression and reoccurrence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipokines / metabolism*
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / metabolism


  • Adipokines