Cancer and Obesity

Jun 22, 2022
Cancer and Obesity

When you have excess body weight, you can increase your risk for several health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer.  Excess weight is the second most common preventable cause of cancer and may soon overtake cigarette smoking as the most common cause.  Even mild weight gain is associated with increased cancer risk.  An 11 lb. weight gain in a woman increases risk of breast cancer by 11%, ovarian cancer by 13%, and colon cancer by 9%. Excess body weight is thought to be responsible for about 11% of cancers in women and about 5% of cancers in men in the United States, as well as about 7% of all cancer deaths.  

The connection between excess body weight and cancer is complex and is still not fully understood. However, excess body fat can be tied to increased cancer risk in multiple ways including:

  • Increased inflammation in the body,
  • Cell and blood vessel growth,
  • Cells living longer than they normally would,
  • Certain hormones including insulin and estrogen can fuel cell growth,
  • The ability of cancer cells to spread. 

Being overweight or obese is clearly linked with an increased risk of many types of cancer, including:

  • Breast Cancer (postmenopausal),
  • Colon and Rectal Cancer,
  • Endometrial/Uterine Cancer,
  • Esophageal Cancer,
  • Gallbladder Cancer,
  • Kidney Cancer,
  • Liver Cancer,
  • Meningioma,
  • Multiple Myeloma,
  • Ovarian Cancer,
  • Pancreatic Cancer,
  • Stomach Cancer,
  • Thyroid Cancer.

Being overweight or obese is suspected to raise the risk of other cancers, such as:

  • Head and Neck Cancer,
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma,
  • Prostate Cancer (worse prognosis),
  • Male Breast Cancer.

A few things we know to help reduce risk of cancer include:

  • Weight reduction, 
  • Limiting processed meats and cooking meats at very high temperatures, 
  • Eating foods that are rich in phytochemicals, fiber, and antioxidants
  • Reducing insulin levels-through diet and possibly medication, 
  • Staying physically active.

There is a lot of exciting cancer research going on and we have learned so much since the “war on cancer” was declared in the 1970s.  However, we are still learning so much about what causes cancer and under what conditions cancer flourishes and how nutrition, weight and insulin resistance may contribute to the risk.  If you have questions about your cancer risk, make sure to talk to your primary care doctor. 

DISCLAIMER: Sarah Smith MD is a medical doctor, but she is not your doctor, and she is not offering medical advice on this website. If you are in need of professional advice or medical care, you must seek out the services of your own doctor or health care professional.