J Cancer 2015; 6(9):825-831. doi:10.7150/jca.12352

Short Research Communication

Hypothesis: Obesity Is Associated with a Lower Mutation Threshold in Colon Cancer

Michael Bordonaro, Darina Lazarova

Department of Basic Sciences, The Commonwealth Medical College, 525, Pine Street, Rm. 3042, Scranton, PA 18509, USA

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Bordonaro M, Lazarova D. Hypothesis: Obesity Is Associated with a Lower Mutation Threshold in Colon Cancer. J Cancer 2015; 6(9):825-831. doi:10.7150/jca.12352. Available from http://www.jcancer.org/v06p0825.htm

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Neoplastic progression requires accumulation of several mutations (mutation threshold). We hypothesize that obesity raises the risk of microsatellite stable (MSS) colon cancer (CC) at least in part by decreasing the mutation threshold. Thus, we posit that obese patients require fewer mutations, particularly driver mutations, compared to their normal BMI counterparts. Further, we suggest that the reduced number of required mutations in obese patients could be due to several factors, including the high levels of cytokines that accompany obesity. Cytokine-activated ERK, AKT, and JAK/STAT signaling could synergize with CC-initiating mutations to promote intestinal neoplastic development. Therefore, driver mutations that induce these specific pathways may not be “required” for neoplastic development in obesity; alteration in cell signaling consequent to obesity can substitute for some driver mutations in neoplastic progression. This hypothesis is supported by preliminary analyses of data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). Thus, we observed that, compared to normal weight patients, cancer genomes of obese MSS CC patients exhibit fewer somatic mutations, and correspondingly lower numbers of mutations in driver genes (P = 0.026).The most striking observation was the lower number of KRAS mutations detected in patients with high body-mass index (BMI). These intriguing observations require further validation with increased number of patients, taking into account all possible confounding factors. If the hypothesis is confirmed, future studies should also address several possible explanations for the observed lower mutation threshold in obese MSS CC patients.

Keywords: Colon cancer, obesity, mutations, BMI, cell signaling