A large percentage of children and adults are developing obesity in today’s world. It is a startling fact that these numbers keep growing every year. While a direct connection has been established between obesity and complications such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension and diabetes, research shows that there may also be a link between obesity and cancer. Although most data on the subject is derived from observational findings, the evidence does point to the fact that increased levels of body fat may elevate the risk of certain types of cancer.1
Does obesity influence the risk of cancer?
Several indicators show us that obesity can influence the risk of cancer:2
- Diet – It has been observed that diet influences both the risk of cancer and its progression. The consumption of more fibre along with fruits and vegetables has been shown to lower the risk of cancer.
- Physical activity – Obesity caused due to reduced physical activity has a direct link with cancer. The absence or insufficiency of physical activity has been linked to hormonal imbalances, increased body weight, unregulated sex hormones and fluctuations in insulin levels.
- Insulin resistance – Obesity is directly related to higher insulin levels, which are, in turn, responsible for several forms of cancer.
- Sex hormones – These indicators have been found to be especially relevant among women, where it is observed that higher BMIs can directly affect cancers linked to hormone levels.
- Inflammation – Individuals with obesity are usually prone to chronic inflammation, which, in turn, can promote the growth and development of cancer cells.
- Hypoxia – Oxygen levels in people with obesity are generally lower than healthy individuals. This condition, known as hypoxia, can increase the risk of cancer.
- Immunity – Significantly lower immunity has been observed in people with severe obesity, which places them at a higher risk for cancer and related ailments.
What kinds of cancer can occur due to obesity?
Obesity tends to place individuals at a greater risk of developing the following cancers:1
- Endometrial cancer
- Oesophageal cancer
- Gastric cardia cancer
- Kidney and/or liver cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Multiple myelomas
How do we lower the risk of cancer in people with obesity?
Medical practitioners and community leaders have come together to devise initiatives that can promote better health among people with obesity and reduce the risk of cancer. Some of these methods are listed below:3
- Measure and monitor your weight, height, BMI and other vitals regularly.
- Follow a healthier eating pattern and a carefully formulated diet.
- Seek the care of medical practitioners and nutritionists in understanding your condition and finding ways to manage your weight.
- Indulge in more physical activity and rigorous exercise every day.
- Involve yourself in community initiatives and reach out for support.
- Form or join support groups. They can help share thoughts and give you a strong sense of support.
- Talk to people – friends, family or even a professional. This can help ease stress and find better coping mechanisms for your condition.
- Develop weight loss programmes that include a combination of diet and lifestyle in consultation with your doctor to enable you to lower the risk of cancer.
With the awareness and understanding of obesity and its link to cancer, it would be easier to watch out for signs and prevent both. The right choices are always present. It is up to us to exercise them.
- National Cancer Institute. Obesity and cancer [Internet]. [updated 2017 Jan 17; cited 2019 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/obesity-fact-sheet
- Pergola G, Silvestris F. Obesity as a major risk for cancer. J Obes. 2013;2013:291546 doi: 10.1155/2013/291546.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cancer and obesity [Internet]. [updated 2017 Oct 3; cited 2019 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/obesity-cancer/index.html.