Cancer and Obesity: What’s the Connection?

February 14, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Andre Henri Goy, M.D. contributes to topics such as Cancer Care, Men's Health, Women's Health.

Verda Hicks, M.D. contributes to topics such as Cancer Care, Men's Health, Women's Health.

A new analysis released earlier this month by the American Cancer Society reveals a rise in six out of 12 obesity-related cancers in adults ages 24 to 49. What might this mean for the younger generation? It’s time to fully consider weight maintenance as a means of cancer prevention, if you haven’t done so already.

“Many studies throughout the years have helped us in the medical community to see the connection between certain types of cancers – like endometrial cancer – and being overweight or obese,” says Andre Goy, M.D., M.S., Chairman & Executive Director, Lymphoma Division Chief – John Theurer Cancer Center. “A study like this, which shows increasing rates of a few of those cancer types, raises a flag yet again about the growing rate of obesity, and the negative impact it can have on a person’s overall state of health. February is Cancer Prevention Month, and there’s no better time than now to remind ourselves of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight as a tactic to prevent particular cancers.”

The study, published in the journal The Lancet Public Health, found the rates for that age group specifically grew for the following obesity-related cancers: colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, multiple myeloma and pancreatic.

Defining Obesity

Obesity is a condition where a person’s body contains an unhealthy amount of fat. Obesity is often measured using the body mass index (BMI) scale. If an adult 20 years old or older has a BMI between 30 and 39.0, they are considered obese. If their BMI is above 40.0, they are considered severely obese.

Here is a scale that is used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine BMI.

The Connection Between Cancer & Obesity

We understand there’s a connection between obesity and certain cancers, but why? There are a few known ways that obesity can lead to cancer, according to Verda Hicks, M.D., medical director of Gynecologic Oncology for Hackensack Meridian Health Cancer Care of Monmouth and Ocean counties.

“For one, excess body weight can attribute to inflammation. Extended periods of inflammation can cause damage to a person’s DNA, leading to cancer,” Dr. Hicks explains. “Excess weight can also change a person’s sex and growth hormone levels – and this, too, can impact the likelihood of getting certain cancers.”

According to Dr. Hicks, fat tissue can also be the culprit.

“Fat tissue produces excess amounts of estrogen, and high levels of estrogen is linked to particular cancers as well, like endometrial,” Dr. Hicks says.

Weight Maintenance for Preventing Cancer

“Depending on the type of cancer, there are often preventive measures we can recommend to patients,” Dr. Goy says. “That being said, recommending a patient maintains a healthy weight is beneficial for them all around – especially considering the rise in a few of those obesity-related cancers.”

Adapting a better diet and routine exercise habit is key, Dr. Goy says.

While some may struggle to lose weight, and others may require surgery as their best and safest option for long-lasting weight loss, others may find that making even small changes in their lifestyle can ultimately result in weight loss.

For instance, some can even find little ways in their workday to help with weight maintenance. Used to having a soda with lunch every day? Start swapping in water instead. Afternoons usually packed with meetings? Make one or two of them walking meetings when the weather is right, and meet your colleagues outside to talk business.

Ultimately, you might be helping to prevent a disease, like cancer, with every weight-conscious decision you make.

Dr. Goy specializes in all types of lymphoma, including Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and HIV-associated lymphoma. To make an appointment, call 551-996-5855.

Dr. Hicks specializes in gynecologic oncology and practices in Neptune, NJ. To make an appointment, call 732-897-7944.

To learn more online about Hackensack Meridian Health’s cancer care services, visit www.HackensackMeridianHealth.org/learnmore.

Those interested in learning about Hackensack Meridian Health’s bariatrics and surgical weight loss can visit www.hackensackmeridianhealth.org/services/bariatrics-and-surgical-weight-loss.

References:

  • National Cancer Institute
  • Sung, H., Siegel, R. L., Rosenberg, P. S., & Jemal, A. (2019). Emerging cancer trends among young adults in the USA: Analysis of a population-based cancer registry. The Lancet Public Health.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.