If You Have This Extremely Common Health Condition, It Could Raise Your Cancer Risk By 30%

Concerned female doctor discusses a diagnosis with a young female patient. The doctor has a serious expression on her face.

An alarming new study showed that a medical condition that nearly one-third of Americans have—metabolic syndrome— is linked to a 30% increase in the risk of several different cancers.

A Chinese study of 40,000 individuals around 50 years of age, each with factors of metabolic syndrome, was recently published in the medical journal Cancer. After measuring participants' metabolic health over four years, the study examined which participants developed cancer over the next decade.

About 30% of participants with metabolic syndrome developed cancer within the ten years monitored, according to NPR.

If that sounds scary, experts say, it probably should. Here's what to know about metabolic syndrome and its potential cancer correlation.

Related: 5 Crucial and Surprising Secrets Your Blood Type Can Tell You About Your Health

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

"Metabolic syndrome is made up of several components that are easy to monitor," Dr. Anton Bilchik, MD, PhD, surgical oncologist, chief of medicine and director of the Gastrointestinal and Hepatobiliary Program at Providence Saint John’s Cancer Institute, tells Parade. These are:

  • High cholesterol

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • High blood sugar

  • High body fat percentage

  • Large waistline

  • Obesity

  • Low HDL levels (low "good" cholesterol)

Metabolic syndrome is typically diagnosed if and when a patient has three or more of the above factors.

Related: The One Thing You Should Never, Ever Say to Someone Who Has Just Been Diagnosed With Cancer

Does Metabolic Syndrome Cause Cancer?

The study's findings and methods have medical professionals paying very close attention as they try to find the answer to this question. "This study is unique in that this is a large prospective cohort study, unlike most studies which retrospectively demonstrate a higher risk of people developing cancer with metabolic syndrome," Dr. Bilchik says. "It also evaluates the trajectory of metabolic syndrome over a four-year period."

"This is the first study to study the specific pattern of metabolic syndrome over time," Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, MD, board-certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, adds. "These results highlight the importance of early and widespread screening for metabolic syndrome in the general public. If we can affect early intervention and control of the components of metabolic syndrome, we can potentially reduce the risk of developing many types of cancers."

Related: The #1 Sign of Cervical Cancer Most People Miss

That said, the study shows a correlation between metabolic syndrome and cancer, but not a definitive causation—although it's still important to take into account.

The new study also measured C-reactive protein (CRP), which Cleveland Clinic notes has been linked to high levels of inflammation. The study found that high levels of CRP, when combined with metabolic syndrome, was "significantly associated" with participants eventually being diagnosed with breast, colorectalendometrial and liver cancers.

It's also important to note that at least one other study showed links between patients with metabolic syndrome who weren't overweight still showing an increased cancer risk—so don't assume you're out of the woods just because your BMI is in a healthy range.

Related: This Is the Early Cancer Symptom That's Missed the Most Often, According to Experts

Is Metabolic Syndrome Reversible?

The good news about metabolic syndrome is that for many patients, it's at least somewhat within their control, and with the help of a physician and lifestyle changes, you may be able to undo some damage.

"Normalizing blood sugar, cholesterol, body fat and blood pressure through exercise, healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet without an excess of processed food are all opportunities to reduce the risk of developing cancer," Dr. Bilchik advises.

Related: The Best Snack to Combat Metabolic Syndrome, According to Registered Dietitians

How Can I Lower My Risk of Cancer?

Dr. Chen's advice for lowering your risk of cancer is simple but effective—and when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you don't need to reinvent the wheel to keep your cancer risk low.

"There are many things we can actively do to reduce our risk of future cancer," Dr. Chen says. These are:

The last point is key, and it's something you should discuss regularly and at length with your doctor, because everyone's needs, health history, genetics and family history are different.

Next, Want to be a Cancer Survivor? Here Are 10 Things You Can Do Today to Help Beat the Disease