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The Link Between Weight Gain and Cancer

Jul 1, 2019

Several studies are finding a link between weight gain and an increased risk of developing cancer. Organizations, such as the World Cancer Research Fund, estimate that around “20% of all cancers diagnosed in the US are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition” (American Cancer Society). Additionally, the GLOBOCAN project found that in 2012, 3.5% of new cancer cases in men and 9.5% of new cancer cases in women were due to the person being overweight or obese.

The majority of these studies focus on a person’s body mass index (BMI) as an indication of being overweight or obese. BMI is a calculation that uses weight and height to estimate your body fat percentage.  Click here to get an estimate of your BMI and see how it compares to normal standards (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm).

Studies around the globe have found that overweight or obese individuals are more likely to develop certain types of cancers. These include:

  • Breast Cancer (post menopause)
  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Endometrium Cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Gallbladder Cancer
  • Esophageal Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Thyroid Cancer
  • Liver Cancer
  • Multiple myeloma Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer

While scientists do not know for certain why this correlation exists, it is believed that increasing amounts of fat cells can alter how the body and cells work. Fat cells may have a direct effect on regulating how other cells grow. This can lead to a larger growth in cancerous cells or inhibiting the growth of cells that help to fight cancer growths. Additionally, fat cells have higher levels of hormones such as insulin and estrogen, which increase the chances of getting cancers such as Breast Cancer. Another common theory is that obese individuals often have chronic low-level inflammation, which can damage DNA and lead to increased risk of developing cancer.

There is still a lot to learn about the link between weight gain and cancer but thanks to several researchers, we understand more everyday.

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