Obesity, Weight and Cancer Risk
More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight and obese, making this an important topic for people living with cancer. When a person is overweight or obese, it means that they have too much body fat in relation to lean body tissue, such as muscle.
Many factors can cause people to become obese. These include genetic, hormonal, environmental, emotional, and cultural factors. People who are overweight have a higher risk of many serious health conditions, including type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Being overweight is also associated with an increased risk of many types of cancer.
Understanding weight gain and cancer risk
Several studies have explored why being overweight or obese may increase cancer risk and growth. The possible reasons that obesity is linked with cancer include:
- Increased levels of insulin and insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which may help some cancers develop
- Chronic, low-level inflammation, which is more common in people who are obese and is linked with an increased cancer risk
- Higher amounts of estrogen produced by fat tissue, which can drive the development of some cancers, such as breast and endometrial cancers
- Fat cells may effect processes that regulate cancer cell growth.
How your weight changes throughout your life may also affect your risk for cancer. Studies have shown that the following factors can affect your cancer risk:
- High birth weight
- Gaining weight as an adult
- Losing and regaining weight repeatedly
- Research suggests that maintaining a healthy weight is associated with a lower risk of cancer and of the cancer returning in survivors.
- Types of cancer linked with an increased weight
Types of cancer linked with an increased weight
Being overweight or obese has been linked to these cancers:
- Head and neck
Measuring weight gain
Obesity is often measured with body mass index (BMI) and waist measurements. BMI is the ratio of a person's weight and height. A healthy BMI is usually between 18.5 and 24.9. A BMI between 25 and 29.5 is considered overweight, while a BMI of 30 or higher is obese.
Also, people with larger waist measurements have a higher risk of various diseases, such as heart disease. A healthy waist measurement is under 40 inches for men and under 35 inches for women.
Weight management tips
To control weight gain, pay attention to what you eat and how much you exercise. You should also make healthy choices about what you eat and drink. This can be challenging because eating a high-calorie diet is typical in the United States. The reasons for this include a complete, relatively low-cost food supply and large portions. Here are some tips to help:
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains. Some types of food, such as broth-based soups, also help a person feel “full” faster.
- Avoid foods and beverages that are high in sugar, such as juice and soda.
- Eat and drink only as many calories as you need to maintain a healthy weight and support your level of physical activity.
- Aim for 30 to 60 minutes per day of moderate to intense physical activity on most days. But even a small increase in physical activity has benefits.