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4 Ways Obesity Is Linked to Cancer

Most of us know that being overweight or obese is unhealthy, bringing with it a greater risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and/or diabetes. But did you know that being overweight or obese also brings with it a higher risk for developing many types of cancer?

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About 1 in 3 Americans is now overweight and another 1 in 3 is obese.

Obesity can increase your risk for:

  • stroke
  • high cholesterol levels
  • liver disease
  • gallbladder disease
  • sleep apnea
  • respiratory problems
  • arthritis
  • infertility (especially in women)

However, being overweight or obese has also been demonstrated to increase risks of certain types of cancer.

Obesity and Your Risk for Cancer

Obesity is associated with increases in cancer of the esophagus, pancreas, colon, rectum, breast, endometrium (uterus lining), thyroid, and gallbladder. In 2007 it was estimated that about 4% of cancers in men and about 7% in women were due to being overweight or obese. Overall, being overweight was estimated to contribute to up to 40% of cases involving certain types of cancers, especially breast, ovary, cervix, and endometrial (uterus lining) in women, and prostate and colorectal cancer in men; but has also been associated with kidney, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in both sexes.

4 Reasons for Higher Rates of Cancer in Overweight and Obese Patients

  1. It is believed that fat cells produce excessive amounts of estrogen, which has been associated with high risk of breast and endometrial cancers. High estrogen levels are also thought to be why cancer rates in overweight women tend to be higher than in men.
  2. Obesity also results in increased levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which has been shown to increase the growth rates of certain tumor cells.
  3. In addition, fat cells produce substances called adipokines, such as leptin, which promote cell proliferation and increases cancer cell production.
  4. Obesity is also associated with inflammation, which has been shown to increase cancer risk for almost all types of cancer.

How to Maintain a Healthy Bodyweight

Maintaining a healthy bodyweight by sticking to a healthy, low sugar, low fat diet is essential, as is getting enough exercise. Low calorie, low fat, low sugar foods such as vegetables, fruits, soups, and whole grains consumed in limited portion sizes ensures you reduce calorie intake to maintain a healthy weight. Increased physical activity of at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week has also been shown to reduce body weight and improve health overall.

American Cancer Society. (2016). Body weight and cancer risk. American Cancer Society. Retrieved on 8/22/16 from

NIH. (2016). Obesity and cancer risk. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved on 8/22/16 from

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