Obesity’s Links to Cancer

In recent years, countless studies have begun to shed light on a connection that many doctors have long suspected existed: that between obesity and cancer. As a matter of fact, a study recently conducted in the U.S. concludes that there are over 100,000 cases of cancer in that country each year that could be prevented if people took measures to reduce body fat. These cases account for around 6% of all cancer cases, and with obesity on the rise virtually everywhere, we’re likely to see these numbers go up in the coming years.
How Does Obesity Lead to Cancer?
In general, the higher one’s BMI (body mass index), the more at risk they are for cancer. Most classification systems say that obese people have a BMI index over 30, while people who are merely overweight have a BMI between 25 and 29.9. Being in these categories creates a higher risk of all sorts of illnesses in addition to cancer, including diabetes, sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Without getting too technical, obesity leads to cancer, basically, by disrupting the body’s natural chemical balance. Excess fat causes people to produce unhealthy amounts of the types of chemicals, especially certain hormones, that are associated with increased cancer risk. Meanwhile, excess fat also suppresses the production of certain other chemicals that help to fight back against cancer. For example, obese people tend to have lower levels of testosterone, a hormone which is known to have tumor-fighting properties.
Types of Cancer Caused by Obesity
There are two types of cancer that are thought to be frequently associated with increased levels of insulin and estrogen in obese women: breast cancer, and uterine (endometrial) cancer. In the case of uterine cancer, as much as 40 percent of all cases are directly linked to cancer. The ratio is smaller when it comes to breast cancer, but doctors think that the trend is increasing.
In men, overweight and obesity are thought to have a strong connection with colon cancer, a connection which is not found in women. One theory behind this fact is that men and women tend to store fat in different places. While women store it around the thighs, buttocks, and hips, men tend to store it around the abdomen. It’s thought that high levels of fat around the mid-section in obese men creates a type of chemical imbalance that effects the digestive system, particularly the colon.
Finally, in both men and women, esophogeal cancer has a high correlation with obesity. Obese people are twice as likely to develop a form of cancer known as adenocarcinoma, which some doctors think may be related to high levels of gastric reflux among overweight people.
Can Healthy Lifestyle Reverse the Risk?
The result of this new information is that it gives us yet another reason to spread awareness about the health risks associated with obesity. More research is needed into whether or not the risk of cancer associated with obesity can be reduced by losing weight, but doctors say that it can’t hurt. While being obese for a substantial period of time may cause some permanent damage, the less time an individual spends living an unhealthy lifestyle, the better.

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