Studies Show Link Between Obesity and Cancer

Studies Show Link Between Obesity and CancerIf you’re overweight or obese, you’re not alone: According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), about 70 percent of adults in the United States are right there with you. That’s a sharp increase from 1994, when about 56 percent of U.S. adults were overweight or obese. Being obese carries significant health risks, such as sharp increases in the risk for diabetes, stroke, heart attack and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, many types of cancer.

Obesity and cancer

NCI studies have shown that obese people are more likely to develop several types of cancer, including cancer of the esophagus, colon, rectum, pancreas, breast, kidney, thyroid and gallbladder, and possibly other types of cancer as well.

One major study that looked at the relationship between obesity and cancer found that roughly 34,000 new cancer diagnoses in men and 50,500 new cancer cases in women were due to obesity. In some cancers, such as esophageal and endometrial cancers, obesity was related to 40 percent of newly diagnosed cases.

The NCI predicts the trend in obesity will lead to an additional 500,000 cases of cancer by 2030. Interestingly, it also found that if adults reduced their body mass index (BMI) by just 1 percent, or about 2.2 pounds on average, the projected increase in cancer cases would drop significantly.

How does obesity affect cancer?

While the exact relationship between obesity and cancer risk hasn’t been firmly established, there are a few hypotheses:

  • Fatty tissue produces estrogen, which has been implicated in several cancers, including endometrial and breast cancers.
  • Increased levels of insulin are common among obese men and women, which can promote the development and growth of specific types of cancerous tumors.
  • The hormone leptin, which occurs at higher levels in obese people, promotes cell proliferation, which is at the heart of cancer growth. Fat tissue may also affect chemicals that regulate tumor growth.
  • Obesity has also been associated with chronic levels of inflammation, which has been implicated not only in an increased risk of cancer but in the development of many other types of diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

Lose weight and keep it off

Several observational studies have shown a link between losing weight and lowering the risk of cancer. The key is to keep it off for good. Of course, that’s usually easier said than done, especially if you’re trying to lose weight on your own. Having professional support can greatly improve your success.

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