Mendelian randomization study of adiposity-related traits and risk of breast, ovarian, prostate, lung and colorectal cancer

Int J Epidemiol. 2016 Jun;45(3):896-908. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw129. Epub 2016 Jul 17.


Background: Adiposity traits have been associated with risk of many cancers in observational studies, but whether these associations are causal is unclear. Mendelian randomization (MR) uses genetic predictors of risk factors as instrumental variables to eliminate reverse causation and reduce confounding bias. We performed MR analyses to assess the possible causal relationship of birthweight, childhood and adult body mass index (BMI), and waist-hip ratio (WHR) on the risks of breast, ovarian, prostate, colorectal and lung cancers.

Methods: We tested the association between genetic risk scores and each trait using summary statistics from published genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and from 51 537 cancer cases and 61 600 controls in the Genetic Associations and Mechanisms in Oncology (GAME-ON) Consortium.

Results: We found an inverse association between the genetic score for childhood BMI and risk of breast cancer [odds ratio (OR) = 0.71 per standard deviation (s.d.) increase in childhood BMI; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.60, 0.80; P = 6.5 × 10(-5)). We also found the genetic score for adult BMI to be inversely associated with breast cancer risk (OR = 0.66 per s.d. increase in BMI; 95% CI: 0.57, 0.77; P = 2.5 × 10(-7)), and positively associated with ovarian cancer (OR = 1.35; 95% CI: 1.05, 1.72; P = 0.017), lung cancer (OR = 1.27; 95% CI: 1.09, 1.49; P = 2.9 × 10(-3)) and colorectal cancer (OR = 1.39; 95% CI: 1.06, 1.82, P = 0.016). The inverse association between genetically predicted adult BMI and breast cancer risk remained even after adjusting for directional pleiotropy via MR-Egger regression.

Conclusions: Findings from this study provide additional understandings of the complex relationship between adiposity and cancer risks. Our results for breast and lung cancer are particularly interesting, given previous reports of effect heterogeneity by menopausal status and smoking status.

Keywords: Cancer risk; Mendelian randomization; body mass index; post-GWAS study; waist-to-hip ratio.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / genetics*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Male
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Waist-Hip Ratio*