The Association Between Obesity and Cancer

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  • Cancer is one of the most chilling words in our language, denoting a ruthless invader that is engaged with both reverence and disdain. It is the legendary predator, the shadowy figure that accompanies each cigarette, the secret assassin carried on the sun’s rays. It is asbestos, arsenic, and radiation. It is also obesity.

    What Is Cancer?

    Cancer is a group of diseases defined by out of control cell growth. There are more than 100 types of cancer. Damaged cells divide beyond control and form tumors that can adversely effect the digestive, nervous, and circulatory systems. They can also release hormones that change body functions.

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    Tumors that remain in one place and have limited growth are benign tumors. More dangerous are malignant tumors which can move throughout the body and divide and grow.

    Projections for new cancer cases for 2011 were about 1,590,000 in the United States alone. Of that number, the death rate was anticipated to be almost 572,000.

    Obesity and the Risk for Cancer

    According to William Li, head of the Angiogenesis Foundation, in his TED Talk "Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?," between 90-95% of cancers are caused by environmental factors, while only 5-10% are genetic. Of that 90-95% of environmental causes, 10-20% are due to obesity.


    In 2007 in the United States, 34,00 new cases of cancer in men and 50,500 new cases of cancer in women were attributed to obesity. Obesity is associated with risk for cancer of the esophagus, pancreas, colon, rectum, breast, endometrium, kidney thyroid, and gallbladder. An analysis discovered that if every adult in the United States reduced their body mass index by just over two pounds, 100,000 new cases of cancer could be avoided.

    Causes for Cancer in Obese People

    There are a few different explanation regarding the link between obesity and cancer. The first is that fat tissues produce an excess of estrogen, and high levels of estrogen are associated with an increased risk of breast, endometrial, and a few other cancers.

    Obese people also often have high levels of insulin as well as insulin-like growth factor-1 which possibly cause development of certain types of tumors.

    Fat cells produce hormones that can either promote or inhibit cell growth. Leptin is a hormone in obese people that seems to promote rapid cell reproduction. Fat cells may also have effects on other regulators of tumor growth.

    Obese people often times have subacute inflammation which has been associated with a higher risk for cancer.

    Obesity and Breast Cancer

    Ovaries stop producing hormones after menopause, and fat tissue then becomes the most critical source of estrogen. Obese women will have more fat tissue and therefore higher estrogen levels that can lead to a faster growth of breast tumors.

    Obesity and Colorectal Cancer

    Men with high body mass indexes are at increased risk for colorectal cancer. Abdominal obesity has the strongest relation to colon cancer, and it is believed high levels of insulin or insulin-related growth factors also increase the possibility for colon cancer.

  • There is also a correlation between high body mass index and the risk for rectal cancer although the risk is not as great.

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    Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?


    William Li presents a new way to think about treating cancer: antiangiogenesis, preventing the growth of blood vessels that feed a tumor. The crucial first (and best) step: Eating cancer-fighting foods that cut off the supply lines and beat cancer at its own game. Watch the short TED Talks video "Can We Eat to Fight Cancer" or visit the Angiogenesis Foundation website to learn more.

    Cancer Statistics, 2011 - - accessed 7/29/12
    Medical News Today - - accessed 7/29/12
    National Cancer Institute - - accessed 7/29/12

    William Li TED Talk - and - accessed 7/29/12

    National Cancer Institute - - accessed 7/29/12

    Aniogenesis Foundation - - accessed 7/29/12



    My Story...

    You can read about my decision to have weight loss surgery back in 2003 and my journey to maintain a lifetime of obesity disease management since that time. My wish is to help you on your own journey of lifetime obesity disease management with shareposts along the way to help you navigate that journey successfully.

Published On: July 29, 2012