Health & Wellness Articles

The Facts on Weight Management and Cancer

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-to-hip 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.

Practice Precaution
Even if both of your measurements show that you're in a healthy range, don't become complacent. In our modern society, eating temptations abound. Remember that the easiest way to manage overweight is to never let it happen. After reviewing the existing research on the subject, a panel of scientists assembled by AICR concluded that everyone should avoid being overweight. They suggest limiting weight gain during adulthood to 11 pounds in order to reduce the risk of cancer.

If your BMI or waist measurement indicates excess weight, it's time to take steps to lower your risk for cancer and other chronic diseases. Forget about previous, unsuccessful attempts. Aim for a modest reduction. Even the loss of a few pounds will reduce the risk of disease.

A Healthy, Longer Life
If you're concerned about lowering your cancer risk and avoiding other chronic diseases associated with excess body fat, you should be concerned about your weight. All adults who have a BMI above 24.9 are considered at risk for premature death and disability.

By gradually incorporating AICR's recommendations into your daily habits, you should be able to reach and maintain a healthier weight. That will mean reduced risk for chronic diseases, a greater sense of well being and the pleasure that comes from regular exercise and varied, healthy eating.

AICR Diet and Health Guidelines for Cancer Prevention
  1. Choose a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods.
  2. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active.
  4. Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all.
  5. Select foods low in fat and salt
  6. Prepare and store foods safely.
And always remember...Do not use tobacco in any form.

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!

Member Comments

  • I'm pretty sure obesity doesn't cause cancer. While this article emphasizes that there is a link, it seems to be implying that obesity is the source of the cancer. I would suggest instead that the cancer has the same cause as the obesity. It you lose all that weight, and continue to eat processed food and drink diet soda all day, you haven't eliminated the cause at all.
    Some good points, except all my friends that passed away from cancer were slim people, every one of them, careful eaters and exercises! Two of them were slim lifelong vegans. There is a lot more too it, overweight is always blamed because it's "easy".
  • Totally agree with Hippycat.
    Cancer rates (as well as obesity) began increasing dramatically with the increase of processed, chemical-laden and GMO foods in our grocery stores.
    The "low-fat" craze brought us increased sugars (think HFCS) in our diets [and most of those new LF items were not necessarily lower in calories].
    Our bodies were designed to metabolize 'real' live foods, not chemicals. That's the appeal of Mediterranean & Paleo diets.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    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.
  • 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.
    Such a great, informational article!
    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 anything within my power to change is gonna change!
    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • AICR has a great website: http://www.aicr.o
    rg/. The American Plate is an excellent tool.
  • 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!

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.