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Obesity cancer risk

Obesity and Cancer Risk

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We’ve all heard the warnings about obesity and its health risks, yet many of us keep gaining weight. According to the CDC, roughly 42% of the adult U.S. population was obese between 2017 and 2018. This number is up from 30.5% between 1999-2000 — a 12% increase in less than a decade. Reports currently link Louisiana with some of the highest rates of obesity in the country. One in 4 Louisiana adults is considered obese, and our state ranks in the top 10 U.S. states for both adult and childhood obesity.

An adult who is overweight has a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9. An adult who is obese has a BMI of 30 or more. To find your BMI, you can use an online BMI calculator like this one from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

You may already know that obesity is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and harmful cholesterol. But recent research has revealed one major finding you may not know: Obesity raises certain cancer risks.

In 2017, the CDC reported that more than 40% of all U.S. cancer diagnoses in the United States were associated with obesity, with more than 630,000 people affected. Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine have previously revealed that the heaviest participants were more likely to develop and die from cancer than participants who were at a healthy weight. The same study authors concluded that excess fat "could account for 14% of all deaths from cancer in men and 20% of those in women."

Researchers with the National Cancer Institute have determined that in certain cancers of the breast (post-menopause), in the lining of the uterus (endometrium), colon and rectum, and other cancers of the kidney, esophagus, pancreas, thyroid and gallbladder are strongly associated with obesity and physical inactivity. A position paper from the American Society of Clinical Oncology notes that "obesity is a major, under-recognized contributor to the nation’s cancer toll and is quickly overtaking tobacco as the leading preventable cause of cancer."

The key word here is preventable. Cancer discussions should include a look at patients’ BMI including where they are, and possibly where they should be. Obesity and weight concerns are preventable. Obesity has been shown to play a statistically significant role in the following cancers:

  • Breast
  • Esophagus
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Colorectal
  • Endometrial
  • Kidney

As one of the leading causes of death in the United States, cancer is predicted to eventually surpass heart disease according to a report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The number of new cancer cases is expected to increase by nearly 45% by 2030, from 1.6 million cases to 2.3 million cases annually.

Creating awareness of the relationship between obesity and cancer is of the utmost importance. It is estimated that more than half of all Americans have no idea that being overweight can increase their risk of cancer. While a lot of things are associated with cancer risk, tobacco use, and obesity are two of the most important things that people have control over that can lower their risk of getting cancer.

Our challenge now is to control weight and subsequently reduce some cancer risks. The link between obesity and cancer is a fascinating and eye-opening discovery in the field of medicine. As research continues, we hope to get closer to further understanding the complex causes and links behind cancer.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Oct. 9, 2014. 

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