Can Obesity Increase the Risk of Cancer?

Can Obesity Increase the Risk of Cancer?

If you’re among the 40% of American’s who struggle with obesity, there are a number of health conditions that you’re more likely to develop in your lifetime including type 2 diabetes, heart conditions, and cancer. That being said, being obese doesn't mean you're definitely going to develop cancer. But obesity is a risk factor that you may be able to control, unlike your age or gender, to reduce your risk of cancer and other health problems.

Cancers Associated with Obesity

While the overall risk for developing cancer increases when you’re obese, there have been studies done to show specific cancers linked to obesity, including:

  • Meningioma (brain tumor)
  • Multiple myeloma (blood cancer)
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Cancers of the thyroid
  • Breast cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreas cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Colon and rectum cancers
  • Mouth, pharynx, and larynx (oral) cancers

How Obesity Increases the Risk of Cancer

There are a number of ways that obesity is linked to developing cancer. Here are some of the more common conditions that occur which can increase the likelihood of developing cancer:

Long-term Inflammation Overproduces Cells

An overabundance of fat cells can change the environment inside your body. These cells start to produce too much of various chemicals and hormones that our bodies normally produce in smaller amounts when we're at a healthy weight. And like most things in life, too much of something can cause problems. When the immune system tries to fix the problem, the body suffers from inflammation.

Short-term inflammation may not be harmful. However, chronic (long-term) inflammation experienced by obese people causes immune cells to release cytokines (special molecules that help with cell to cell signaling). Cytokines could signal the cells to divide too fast which in some cases leads to cancer.

Obesity Increases Estrogen Production Which Can Lead to Cancer

Changes in hormones can cause a variety of conditions including cancer. Fat cells release the hormone, estrogen. Higher than normal estrogen levels can make hormone-receptor positive breast cancers develop – in both men and women.

Gallbladder Cancer Risk Increases from Gallstones

Obese people are more likely to develop chronic gallbladder inflammation which can cause painful gallstones to develop, and in some cases, cause an infection in the gallbladder. A history of gallstones is proven to be a strong risk factor for developing gallbladder cancer.

Chronic Acid Reflux Can Lead to Gastrointestinal Cancer

GERD, also referred to as chronic acid reflux that causes regular heartburn and other symptoms, is a risk factor for developing cancer in the esophagus or stomach. Learn more about acid reflux and types of procedures available.

Research Linking Obesity to Cancer

The more weight you gain, the more the risk of developing cancer increases. According to the World Health Organization:

  • People with a BMI greater than or equal to 25 are considered overweight.
  • People with a BMI greater than or equal to 30 are considered obese.

Recent research shows that as little as a 5 point increase in BMI increases the chances of dying from cancer by 10%.

The latest study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology showed that the effect of being overweight on the cancer risk is twice as high as previously thought. Earlier studies showed that excess body fat accounted for just 6% of all cancers.

Decreasing Your Risk of Cancer

Ways you can lower your weight to a healthy level include:

  • Increase physical activity according to your health condition and calorie loss goals.
  • Watch how much you eat (consider counting calories or using the small plate method)
  • Consult a dietitian.
  • Explore behavior support.
  • Speak to your doctor about weight loss medication.
  • Focus on eating foods with a low glycemic index.
  • Mitigate stress (stress could lead to overeating).
  • Adjust your eating and food preparation habits (consider cooking vs fast food and frozen food).
  • Weight loss surgery

Can Weight Loss Surgery Really Lower Your Cancer Risk?

When non-surgical options for losing weight don’t work, it could be time to consider weight loss surgery to reduce the risk of cancer and other dangerous health conditions.

A study published in the British Journal of Surgery showed that patients who chose gastric bypass, gastric banding, or sleeve gastrectomy decreased the risk of developing hormone-related cancer (breast, prostate, endometrial) by 77%. Gastric bypass showed top results, leading to an 84% risk reduction.

Overall, weight loss (also called bariatric) surgeries seem to reduce the risk of developing some cancers. However, it's worth noting that surgery is just the first step toward reducing risks. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle after the procedure is very important for the results to take full effect.

Next Steps Towards a Healthier Weight

Losing weight is about more than looking good. It’s important for you to live a longer life too. If you’ve been diagnosed as obese and would like to find out if you’re a candidate for weight-loss surgery, schedule a consultation with Dr. Howard to learn more.

Categories: Weight Loss

More Blog Posts