Obesity and Cancer: The unknown problem

The numbers are frightening: around 40% of newly-diagnosed cancers are those associated with obesity. Excess weight contributes to increased risk of at least 13 types of cancers. Furthermore, the incidence rate of almost all overweight and obesity related cancers has increased in the last decade.

These are the results published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, based on data taken from the US Cancer Statistics. The numbers are clear; there is an important correlation between excess weight and cancer. Sadly, around half of the population are unaware of this relation, and therefore do not fully know the health risks that suppose being overweight or obese, which includes increased risk to some common forms of cancers such as breast, colon, kidney, liver and pancreas. In this sense, increasing awareness and promoting a healthy weight are strategies that could reduce the incidence of these cancers.  

A more detailed look at the data provides interesting information. For example, over 55% of cancers newly-diagnosed in women were excess weight-related cancers, compared to 24% in men. Also, there is positive correlation between excess weight and cancer incidence, which differed depending on the type of cancer. Whereas a 1 kg/m2 increase in BMI increased thyroid cancer incidence by 1%, in adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, the value increased to 9% per 1 kg/m2.

This information is further proof that maintaining a healthy BMI during life is of utmost importance to reduce health-related risk factors. These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and cancer. In this sense, knowledge is key for a proper intervention, and this type of information should be easily available, as well as indicate adequate guidelines towards a healthy lifestyle. The most common causes of death and health complications are due to acquired disorders, and prevention is the best treatment. The solution is in our hands.

Jonathan Jones, Ph.D

Product Development Manager


Reference: Steele CB et al. Vital Signs: Trends in Incidence of Cancers Associated with Overweight and Obesity — United States, 2005–2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017 Oct 3;66(39):1052-1058.