Health & Wellness Articles

The Facts on Weight Management and Cancer

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Many pressing reasons exist to avoid being overweight or obese and, unfortunately, cancer is one of them. It has long been known that excess weight increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes. But, fewer people know about the frightening link between cancer and obesity. In a recent survey conducted by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), only 25 percent were aware of the cancer-obesity association.

Yet science clearly demonstrates that obesity increases cancer risk. A recent report by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that being overweight and inactive accounts for one-fifth to one-third of all breast, colon, endometrial, kidney and esophageal cancers. In the U.S. alone, that estimate represents between 102,000 and 135,000 cases each year. Strong evidence also associates obesity with higher risk of cancers of the pancreas, uterus, prostate and ovary.

The Cancer-Obesity Link
Researchers predict that the epidemic growth in rates of obesity and overweight will cause cancer rates to soar 50 percent worldwide by 2020.

Why? Cancer is a complex disease, and many factors probably explain the increased cancer risk caused by excess weight. New findings suggest that fat cells constantly secrete a variety of hormones and other growth factors into the bloodstream. In obese and overweight individuals, greater amounts of these hormones and growth factors are continually pumped into the bloodstream. Cells are urged to grow and divide at an accelerated rate. Thus, according to this theory, the random mutations that can lead to cancer are more likely.

Are You at Risk?
How should you determine if you're at risk? Most of us know when we gain weight. Clothes no longer fit. The mirror becomes an irritating reminder, and the scale is permanently hidden under the bed.

Many of us, however, learn to overlook these signs. Fortunately, science currently offers two methods of assessing body weight. Neither is perfect, but they both tell you whether you need to take steps to control your weight and, consequently, lower your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
  1. Body Mass Index (BMI) is one common method used to measure overweight and obesity levels. This BMI chart shows the range of healthy and unhealthy weights for different heights. (BMI may not be an accurate indicator for athletes, the elderly, children or people less than 5 feet tall.)
  2. Waist Circumference is a second, complementary means of assessing possible risk due to excess body fat. Place a tape measure around your waist immediately above the tip of your hipbone. Measure right after exhaling. For women, a waist measurement of 35 inches or more indicates high risk. For men, the significant figure is 40 inches or more.
In most cases, the BMI and waist measurements will confirm each other. But some people with a BMI of 30 or below whose waist measurement indicates high risk should consider themselves at high risk.
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About The Author

The American Institute for Cancer Research The American Institute for Cancer Research
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is a charity that has contributed more than $70 million for research on diet and cancer. AICR educates Americans how to make dietary changes to lower their cancer risk.

Member Comments

  • Despite some very iffy statements*, this is still thought provoking.

    * "...being overweight and inactive accounts for one-fifth to one-third of all breast, colon, endometrial, kidney and esophageal cancers." Accounts for? Seriously? Present, sure. A factor, maybe. Accounts for? Highly dubious. - 7/10/2014 2:03:28 PM
  • Why "unfortunately"? The link means that there is an added benefit to losing weight. Also, there's something we can do to prevent cancer. I think this is positive news. - 5/24/2014 11:07:16 PM
  • In the UK, the links between cancer and obesity are well known. I have already had breast cancer, and would like to do anything possible to prevent its return. I do also agree though with Mary, anything you go to see the doctor about, from headaches to an ingrowing toenail, is put down to your weight. It is difficult to get the doctor to see past this, and connect with anything else. - 10/8/2012 9:04:34 AM
  • I think some studies are in complete, but I do agree that being over weight does causes allot of health problem including ,problems with your feet. I liked this article and it does give me more moivation to lose weight.Like the one comment, doctors,will say , your over weight ,or you smoke, that is the problem. I use to go to a doctor for my diabetis , for 5 years when I went to see him, the only thing he ever said you smoke and nothing about what I was seeing him about,kept me on the same meds, I was on. When I changed doctors after they done labs, they changed my meds, and said I should of been changed a long time ago. The only reason I stayed with that doctor so long was because of my insurance. - 10/8/2012 8:36:43 AM
  • HMAYWOOD
    Such a great, informational article! - 6/19/2012 10:22:30 AM
  • FISHTWEAK
    This is actually the main reason for my healthy lifestyle journey. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma in January of this year and after 9 months of chemo and surgery and an all around horrible experience I am determined to do whatever I can to stay cancer free...including losing the 30lbs of excess weight I am dragging around. While being overweight may not cause cancer I'm not taking my chances of having to battle with it again...so anything within my power to change is gonna change! - 11/8/2010 9:46:20 AM
  • LIFE_IS_SO_GOOD
    Great article! I am learning so much on my cancer journey but the biggest lesson is that I am responsible for what goes in my mouth and how much I move my body .... we certainly can't control everything that happens but we control much more than we think we can. - 8/24/2009 1:53:59 PM
  • FOLKS, THIS ARTICLE SPEAKS THE TRUTH! I knew I was at risk for heart disease, both my parents had CHF. I knew I was at risk for diabetes due to my weight. But there was ZERO FAMILY HISTORY of "C" in our family, and yet that got me first! My doctor said my excess weight was THE ONLY FACTOR he could identify. Environmental factors no doubt factored in, but the excess weight made me an easy target.

    Please let this scare you into taking this article's advice seriously. I was lucky to have "the least of the least", but I am ineligible for life insurance for at least 5 years, I'm a "marked woman." I want to get the excess off now to stave off additional "C", and to avoid heart disease and diabetes. - 8/24/2009 7:12:56 AM
  • First, a big shout out to GEOIGGS - your story is inspiring. Second, as the article states, cancer is a very complex disease, and I'm learning that the many different types of cancer have many different triggers. Luckily, I have not gone through cancer, but several people I know have been diagnosed recently, and all three have been thin people with very healthy, plant-based (mainly Asian-style) diets. Cancer is just a very weird and horrible disease. - 5/29/2009 11:05:17 PM
  • I'm troubled by the conclusions the reporters are drawing about the research, for a couple of reasons. First, association isn't the same as causation. Without having read the original studies, it's hard to know whether the researchers are claiming causation or association and what other variables they've eliminated. The second reason is that the reporting of this study will tend to increase the problem that health professionals tend to see everything through one causal lens. If you're a smoker, all your health problems must be due to smoking-if you're overweight, all your health problems must be due to weight.

    Finally, and this is my particular bugaboo, I think that BMI is voodoo. It's simply a height-weight ratio, unadjusted for gender, frame, or fitness. It's not even as sophisticated as the old Met Life Insurance charts. A far better measure for health purposes would be body fat percentage-I personally don't think of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone as obese, although their BMI says they are--nor are Tom Cruise and George Clooney overweight.
    - 4/12/2009 11:03:49 PM
  • AICR has a great website: http://www.aicr.o
    rg/. The American Plate is an excellent tool. - 7/28/2008 1:02:10 PM
  • I had a grandmother and an aunt who were both not overweight when they were diagnosed with breast cancer. My aunt was in her early 40s and actually underweight. She also exercises regularly and has a very healthy eating lifestyle. The thing is they were both on hormone therapy. It is something that I think really needs to be researched as well as the hormones that are allowed in our food supply. I think most people don't even stop to consider what is in the food at the supermarket, including myself! - 7/28/2008 10:25:55 AM
  • I happen to be one of the 1200 men that get breast cancer each year. I feel blessed that I was diagnosed with it at an early stage had radical mastecomy and a year of chemo. Cancer has taught me how to live for the first time in my life I have learned how not to be angry and to value relationships. The chemo was extremely taxing on my body I worked throughout the treatments. My health was at a very low point, I put on 40 lbs the chemo was giving my heart trouble and I had 4 pneumonias during the treatments.

    To date I have lost 49 lbs and will continue to get to an optimal weight. I exercise daily and my fitness has increased and I feel the better than I did when I was in my thirties. My blood pressure is under control eliminated one med and one to go.....I plan on being med free when it comes to BP..........My cholestrol was 252 and now its 200 working on getting rid of this med. - 7/28/2008 8:38:08 AM
  • As a Kidney Cancer Survivor, I learned that obesity and smoking are the leading causes of kidney cancer. I quit smoking, now I need to work on the weight.......... - 7/28/2008 8:16:13 AM
  • I was not obese or even overweight when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40. Going through cancer treatment and being thrown into early menopause from chemo put weight on me. - 7/28/2008 7:43:26 AM

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