Did you know that, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the best thing you can do to lower your risk of getting cancer? Being overweight or obese increases the risk for at least 12 cancers, including mouth, liver, kidney, stomach, colorectal, prostate, esophageal, breast, pancreatic, ovarian, and endometrial. Approximately 7 in 10 Americans are overweight or obese. The scary thing is, only about 52% of Americans are aware of the link between obesity and cancer.
Studies showing the link between obesity and cancer come from cohort studies, which are a type of observational study. The results from an observational study can be difficult, because there are other ways in which overweight and obese individuals could differ from individuals at a healthy weight. The study doesn’t determine that, which is why only a link can be established, and not causality. However, consistent results show that higher body fat is linked to an increased risk of a slew of different cancers. Risks for obese individuals are usually twice as high for endometrial, esophageal, liver, and kidney cancer versus normal-weight people. The risks for those who are extremely obese are higher.
There are several reasons that obesity may increase the risk for certain cancers. Some believe it has to do with chronic low-level inflammation, which is common among obese individuals. Over time, this can lead to DNA damage, which leads to cancer. High levels of estrogen are linked to increased risk of some cancers, like breast cancer, and fat tissue produces excess estrogen. Fat cells also produce adipokines, which are hormones that can stimulate or inhibit cell growth.
Obese people can also have increased insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1, which may increase the risk of certain cancers.
It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, complete with a balanced diet and exercise, to lower your risk of these cancers. Fewer studies have looked into the association between weight loss and cancer risks. However, studies completed on obese individuals who have undergone bariatric surgery reveal that their risk for obesity-related cancers is lower than their counterparts who did not have bariatric surgery.
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