What’s the Connection Between Obesity and Cancer?


It is well knowledge that the prevalence of overweight and obesity in adults in the United States is on the rise, with 71.6 percent of people being affected by these conditions as of 2015 to 2016. During this time, there has also been an increase in the diagnosis of the majority of malignancies that are connected to obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates of these diagnoses increased by 7 percent between the years of 2005 and 2014. (CDC). During this same time period, rates of malignancies that are not associated to fat or being overweight fell by 13%.

What exactly is going on, and how does it all tie together?

According to Alpa Patel, PhD, an epidemiologist from the American Cancer Society, “Excess body fatness is a documented risk factor for 13 malignancies.” [Citation needed] (ACS). These include malignancies of the stomach, pancreas, ovaries, colon, and thyroid, as well as breast cancer that occurs after menopause and a specific type of brain cancer. Other types of cancers are also included.

According to research conducted by the ACS, an excess of body fat is responsible for about 7 percent of all cancer deaths and nearly 8 percent of all cancer diagnoses in the United States. In all, this accounts for approximately 8 percent of all malignancies. To put things in perspective, being overweight comes in at number two on the list of modifiable cancer risk factors, right behind smoking and just ahead of drinking alcohol.

How do I find out my BMI?

The body mass index, also known as BMI, is the most popular measurement that is used to quantify a person’s weight status in today’s criteria.

You may figure out your personal body mass index (BMI) by multiplying the answer to the division of your weight (in pounds) by the square of your height (in inches), which is then followed by the number 703. To convert between imperial and metric units, just divide your weight in kilos by the square of your height in metres. This will give you your body mass index. If you would rather not do the arithmetic, you can also use the tables and calculators that are available online.

A body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 to 24.9 is considered to be normal for adults who are at least 20 years old. Overweight is defined as having a BMI of 24.9 or higher, and obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or higher.

The link between being overweight and having cancer.

The degree to which obesity is associated to an increased risk of developing a particular type of cancer varies depending on the disease in question. Being obese or overweight can raise one’s risk of developing cancer of the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus. Being severely fat can increase that risk by seven times. The chance of developing malignancies of the stomach, oesophagus, and kidneys is approximately increased by a factor of two when excess body weight is present.

The increased risk of developing other cancers that comes with having a high BMI is not as significant. A difference of approximately 30 pounds for a woman who is 5 feet, 5 inches tall equates to a BMI increase of 5, which translates into a 12 percent increased risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Other factors, such as genetics, also play a role in determining a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Obesity, on the other hand, is associated not only with an increased risk of breast cancer in men but also in these women.

There is one cancer that seems to defy the trend among those that are associated with obesity: between 2005 and 2014, the rate of colorectal cancer fell by 23 percent. But the primary reason for this drop is not that colorectal cancer and obesity have all of a sudden become unlinked; rather, it is as a result of enormously successful colorectal cancer screening programmes that have helped doctors catch many cases of the disease in its earliest stages. These programmes have helped doctors catch a lot of cases of the disease in its earliest stages.

How one’s weight could affect their likelihood of developing cancer

How can being overweight contribute to an increased risk of cancer? Patel outlines numerous probable possibilities. She claims that the consequences, in each scenario, have the potential to disturb the systems that would normally put a brake on cell proliferation.

Inflammation: For one, the persistent, low-level, body-wide inflammation that frequently accompanies obesity and can cause DNA damage. This inflammation can be triggered by obesity. It is possible for the injured cells to start growing uncontrollably if the DNA that was broken plays a function in the process of cell proliferation. This unchecked growth has the potential to develop into cancer in the long run.

Immune system gone off the rails The immune system would ordinarily be able to deal with tiny outbreaks of uncontrolled cell proliferation; but, this has been prevented. However, an immune system that has been derailed as a result of the impacts of obesity may be less successful in this fight and may become unable to diffuse the situation.

Hormones: The additional fat tissue that is associated with obesity creates excess hormones, particularly oestrogen, which is directly linked to breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers. Obesity is intimately linked to these types of malignancies. Obesity and difficulties in maintaining a healthy blood sugar level are frequently found to go hand in hand with one another. Having high levels of insulin in the body, which the body employs to try to control the levels of blood sugar, may encourage the development of some malignancies, including cancers of the kidney and colon.

A greater proportion of younger adults are afflicted.

As a result of the growing obesity pandemic over the past four decades, individuals of younger generations have been exposed to a greater amount of excess body fat throughout the course of their careers than was the case in earlier decades. According to research published by the American Cancer Society (ACS) in February 2019, this may help explain why malignancies connected with obesity are on the rise among younger persons in the United States.

The research, which was published in The Lancet Public Health, analysed data collected on 30 distinct types of cancer between the years 1995 and 2014, including 12 types of cancer that are connected to obesity. The researchers looked at data from 25 state registries that encompassed 67 percent of the population in the United States to determine the incidence of invasive malignancies in persons aged 25 to 84 years old.

They found a significant increase in six cancers that are connected to obesity among younger persons, but the rates of eight cancers that are not linked to fat, including diseases that are linked to smoking and infections, decreased or remained the same.

The study indicated, for instance, that the average annual increase for pancreatic cancer was largest among younger persons between the ages of 25 and 29 when compared to older age groups. Adults aged 25 to 29 years old also had the highest average annual increases in the risk of developing colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, and kidney malignancies. And the highest incidence of multiple myeloma was found in adults aged 30 to 34 years old. Various findings come as a surprise considering the fact that the risk of developing these types of cancer often rises as people get older.

In light of the fact that the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents in the United States has increased by more than one hundred percent between the years 1980 and 2014, the researchers hypothesise that this could be one of the reasons why more young people are being diagnosed with certain forms of cancer. They point out, however, that this association does not prove a cause and effect relationship, given that other factors, such as sedentary behaviour, poor diet (not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables and eating too much red or processed meats and sugar), diabetes, gallstones, and inflammatory bowel disease, may also have played a role in the development of the condition.

Prevention and mitigation of potential danger

If you calculate your body mass index (BMI) and obtain a result that indicates you may be carrying excess weight, you may find yourself wondering if lowering weight may help minimise the risks associated with cancer. According to Patel, the answer isn’t quite obvious, but the evidence does imply that there is some benefit to losing weight. According to her, one of the problems with the studies that have been done so far is that the majority of people do not lose weight and then be able to keep it off, which makes it difficult to determine a consistent weight-loss effect.

Persons who are obese and have bariatric surgery, which involves reducing the size of the stomach in order to cause weight loss, have been shown to have a lower chance of developing cancer in comparison to obese people who do not have the operation. However, this interpretation might not hold true for all types of cancer.

Breast cancer risk did not alter for women who were already overweight or obese, regardless of whether or not they lost weight, according to the findings of one big study. Preventing weight gain in the first place is something that might make a difference: Women who started the research at a normal weight but gained more than five percent of their body weight experienced an increase in their risk of breast cancer.

In the meantime, more research is being done to investigate the relationship between weight loss and the risk of cancer. There is some evidence to suggest that weight loss may reduce the risk of certain aggressive forms of prostate cancer as well as post-menopausal breast cancer, amongst other cancers.

It appears that the location where fat deposits occur also has a role. The accumulation of fat around the abdomen, as opposed to fat on other parts of the body, such as the hips, appears to be especially associated to an elevated risk for certain cancers, including colorectal tumours.

What actions you can take

Although the findings may not be conclusive, this does not mean that you should throw in the towel and give up on trying to maintain a healthy weight or reduce your weight if your body mass index (BMI) is on the rise. According to Patel, “given the detrimental health impacts of excess body fatness,” those who are overweight or obese “should make it a goal to lose weight if they are in that category.”

When it comes to reducing one’s risk of developing cancer, achieving a healthy weight is not the primary objective. According to Patel, making adjustments to aspects of one’s lifestyle such as one’s food and level of activity can also be significant. These adjustments can include getting more exercise, reducing the amount of time spent doing nothing but sitting around, and switching to a healthier diet that emphasises fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.

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