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BACKGROUND: The mechanisms underlying the obesity-cancer relationship are incompletely understood. This study aimed to characterise metabolic signatures of greater body size and to investigate their association with two obesity-related malignancies, endometrial and colorectal cancers, and with weight loss within the context of an intervention study. METHODS: Targeted mass spectrometry metabolomics data from 4326 participants enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort and 17 individuals from a single-arm pilot weight loss intervention (Intercept) were used in this analysis. Metabolic signatures of body size were first determined in discovery (N = 3029) and replication (N = 1297) sets among EPIC participants by testing the associations between 129 metabolites and body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC), and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) using linear regression models followed by partial least squares analyses. Conditional logistic regression models assessed the associations between the metabolic signatures with endometrial (N = 635 cases and 648 controls) and colorectal (N = 423 cases and 423 controls) cancer risk using nested case-control studies in EPIC. Pearson correlation between changes in the metabolic signatures and weight loss was tested among Intercept participants. RESULTS: After adjustment for multiple comparisons, greater BMI, WC, and WHR were associated with higher levels of valine, isoleucine, glutamate, PC aa C38:3, and PC aa C38:4 and with lower levels of asparagine, glutamine, glycine, serine, lysoPC C17:0, lysoPC C18:1, lysoPC C18:2, PC aa C42:0, PC ae C34:3, PC ae C40:5, and PC ae C42:5. The metabolic signature of BMI (OR1-sd 1.50, 95% CI 1.30-1.74), WC (OR1-sd 1.46, 95% CI 1.27-1.69), and WHR (OR1-sd 1.54, 95% CI 1.33-1.79) were each associated with endometrial cancer risk. Risk of colorectal cancer was positively associated with the metabolic signature of WHR (OR1-sd: 1.26, 95% CI 1.07-1.49). In the Intercept study, a positive correlation was observed between weight loss and changes in the metabolic signatures of BMI (r = 0.5, 95% CI 0.06-0.94, p = 0.03), WC (r = 0.5, 95% CI 0.05-0.94, p = 0.03), and WHR (r = 0.6, 95% CI 0.32-0.87, p = 0.01). CONCLUSIONS: Obesity is associated with a distinct metabolic signature comprising changes in levels of specific amino acids and lipids which is positively associated with both colorectal and endometrial cancer and is potentially reversible following weight loss.

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Cancer, Metabolomics, Obesity, Weight loss