PADDING THE RISK

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Extra weight may trouble kidneys

As if slender figures don't already get all the good stuff--like single-digit dress sizes and protection from heart disease--now there's more. New research suggests that weighing right for your height may turn cancer away from your kidneys.

If you haven't heard much about kidney cancer, it's not because it never strikes. The number of people who get it every year could fill the stands around an average NBA game with few seats to spare. But prevalent doesn't mean inevitable. A study of 163 women with renal-cell carcinoma (the most common type of kidney cancer) and 223 without revealed that women who were the most overweight had four times the risk of this cancer compared with women who weighed just right (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, January 1996).

This study checked whether weight histories that spiked and dipped like the Grand Tetons were any worse for a woman's health than weights that stayed steady, explains lead researcher Wong-Ho Chow, PhD, at the National Cancer Institute. Neither roller-coaster weights nor supersteady ones--if not overweight--sent risks skyward. Instead, researchers found a much simpler relationship: Weight goes up, risk goes up. Which gives them good reason to suspect that if the weight stays down, risk might stay down, too.

Why cancer likes kidneys that have some extra weight around them has yet to be pinpointed. One theory is that weight gain may cause a hormonal imbalance leading to tumor growth. Another theory is that the constant taxing that obesity does to the vessels in the kidneys leaves this organ vulnerable to carcinogens.

So the bottom line of the study is to keep your own bottom line down. Says Dr. Chow, "a prudent diet and moderate physical exercise that are good for preventing other diseases, such as colon cancer or heart disease, would also be good for helping to prevent kidney cancer."

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