Obesity and Cancer – A Growing Connection

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March 17, 2014


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This post is available in: Spanish

The news has been filled with stories that tout the U.S. as one of the most obese nations in the world.  The U.S. ranked number one for many years, which is not a distinction to be proud of, but if there is good news to share, we lost our number one position to Mexico in 2013, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Regardless of where we rank, we are in serious trouble and the news keeps getting more and more convincing that obesity is more harmful than originally thought.

Obesity was always thought to be a major risk factor in heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and a number of other chronic diseases. Now there is growing evidence to show that there is a link between obesity and cancer as well.

What is obesity? 

According to the National Cancer Institute, obesity is a condition where a person has a high and unhealthy proportion of body fat, usually measured by Body Mass Index, or BMI.  BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s height and weight and factoring in some other conditions as well. Most clinical definitions of obesity include having a BMI equal to or greater than 30.   The obesity epidemic affects of all ages, socioeconomic levels, geographic regions and ethnicities.

There is consistent research to show that people who are obese or overweight have more fat tissue.  That fat tissue may affect the function of the immune system  and cause inflammation.  It  also may produce hormones, such as insulin or estrogen, which may cause cancer cells to grow.  According to Cancer.Net, the three weight-related factors that may also contribute to an increased cancer risk are:

  • High birth weight
  • Weight gain during adulthood
  • Weight cycling (losing and gaining weight repeatedly)

The types of cancers that have been linked to obesity or overweight, according to the American Cancer Society, are:

  • Breast (in women who have been through menopause)
  • Colon and rectum
  • Uterine
  • Kidney
  • Esophageal
  • Pancreatic
  • Uterine
  • Thyroid
  • Gallblader.

What can you do to lower your risk? 

“Educate yourself”, says Grace Wang, M.D., a medical oncologist affiliated with Baptist Health. “I suggest that to reduce your risk of being diagnosed with cancer, it is best for you to eat a healthy diet, maintain a normal weight, exercise, limit your alcohol consumption and – most of all – quit smoking.”

Alice Pereira, a registered and licensed nutritionist at Baptist Health, has been working with Dr. Wang to create nutritional guidelines for breast cancer patients to reduce their risk of a recurrence.  Ms. Pereira says “Even though these guidelines focus on preventing a breast cancer recurrence, practicing the steps may even lower your risk of developing other cancers as well.”

Dr. Wang recommends talking to your doctor about your overall health and cancer risk to find out what healthy changes, including losing weight, may help you reduce your risk.

 

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