Linking Cancer to Obesity

Amy Thomas Health Guide
  • This is the first in a series on how to beat cancer through diet and exercise from our Expert, Doctor Amy Thomas. Read on!


    Excess weight associated with a number of cancers. Obesity has become a major public health crisis over the past 20 years and is now one of the most common medical problems in the United States, affecting approximately 100 million adults. Obesity is a risk factor for many illnesses, including high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and heart attack, and now obesity is linked to increased risk of a number of cancers.


    A recent report issued by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund links obesity to at least 6 different cancers, including cancer of the colon, kidney, pancreas, endometrium, esophagus, and breast. Additional studies have also associated obesity with cancers of the gallbladder, prostate, thyroid and ovaries.

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    Approximately 3% of all new cancers are linked to obesity, and up to 20% of cancer deaths in the US are linked to excess body weight. The increased risk of cancer related to obesity is thought to be related to alterations in the hormones insulin and insulin-like growth factor, as well as alterations in sex hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and androgens.


    Observational studies have shown that weight loss and avoiding weight gain lower the risk of cancers of the colon, breast (postmenopausal), endometrium, kidney, and esophagus. Similar reports indicate a protective effect of regular exercise as well. More studies are needed to confirm the protective effect of weight loss and exercise.


    In the meantime, it is prudent to commit to a low fat, high fiber diet and to engage in daily physical activity. If you are overweight, it is important to avoid additional weight gain and to attempt to lose weight. Loss of just 5-10% of your body weight is beneficial to your health.



    How do I know if I'm overweight and at risk for complications of obesity?


    The definition of obesity is as a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30, and ideally your BMI should be less than 25. In order to determine your BMI you will need to know your height and weight. There are web-based calculators for BMI, or you can perform the calculation yourself.


    To learn more about calculating your BMI try this:

  Body Mass Index Calculator:

  Calculate Your Ideal Body Weight Calculator:


    How do I lose excess weight and maintain a healthy BMI?



    • Limit your intake of foods which are high in sugar and low in fiber.

    Instead try foods high in fiber and low in fat, including raw apples, bananas, oranges, green grapes, watermelon, cherries, reduced-fat cheese, low-fat fruit yogurt, raw carrots, boiled peas, wheat pasta, unprocessed bran, skinless chicken, grilled or baked salmon, and canned tuna in water.

    • Avoid sugary drinks, particular those with high-fructose corn syrup.

    Reduce your intake of soda, fruit-flavored drinks, and fruit canned in heavy syrup. Choose fresh fruit instead of fruit juices.

    • Exercise for at least 30 minutes daily or 3-4 hours per week.
    • Reduce time spent in sedentary activities, such as watching TV.
    • Identify activities, cues, and circumstances that lead to over-eating or eating unhealthy foods. Avoid or modify these habits to help reduce calorie intake.

    - Amy E. Thomas, MD

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    Next article: The Importance of Maintaining a Healthy Weight during Cancer Treatment

Published On: November 27, 2007

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