An American Crisis: Obesity & Its Link to Cancer

Q:  Is obesity a risk factor for cancer and why?

A: Yes, obesity is a risk factor for developing cancer. According to the Work Cancer Research Fund, it is estimated that about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the US are related to obesity. Being overweight or obese is clearly linked with an increased risk of cancers of the breast, ovaries, endometrium, colon, esophagus, pancreas, gallbladder, and rectum, amongst others. In addition, having too much belly fat, or “visceral fat,” regardless of body weight, is linked with an increased risk of certain cancers. The link between obesity and cancer is complex and it is believed to work through a number of different mechanisms, which can affect your immune system and cause a subsequent inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation is thought to increase your lifetime risk of cancer. Obesity also negatively affects levels of certain hormones such as insulin, estrogen and factors that regulate cell growth, which if altered in a negative manner can also increase your risk of getting cancer.

Q: What are some things that you can do to reduce the risk of getting cancer?

A:  One motto to live by is, “Live in moderation.” To reduce your risk of getting cancer, maintain a healthy weight by staying active and eating smart. There is growing evidence that weight loss might reduce the risk of breast cancer (after menopause), more aggressive forms of prostate cancer and possibly other cancers as well. Quitting smoking and avoiding second hand smoke are critical factors. Also, limit your alcohol intake and protect your skin from the sun and tanning beds. If you are obese, speak with your doctor as well as a nutritionist to create a health plan that will work for your lifestyle. Stay active by either joining a gym or taking daily walks. If you have a desk job, it is important to keep your body moving throughout the day. Maintaining a healthy and consistent sleep schedule will also help maintain proper energy and hormone levels.

Q: How do I know what my ideal weight should be and how do I achieve it?

A: To determine your ideal weight, several factors should be considered including age, muscle fat ratio, height, sex and bone density. Most commonly, Body Mass Index (BMI) is the method used to determine whether your body weight is ideal. However, some say BMI is inaccurate as it does not account for both muscle and bone mass, leading to lower results in people with high body fat and higher results in people with lean or muscular bodies. Other methods include a waist-hip ratio, waist-height ratio, and body fat percentage analysis. Many experts say that calculating body fat percentage is the best way to gauge your ideal weight because it is the only measurement that includes the body’s true composition. There are several ways to calculate body fat percentage but the most accurate is The Body Logic Scan. This machine provides an accurate picture of muscle, bone and fat mass which can aid in the design of a customized weight loss program. Once you determine that your weight is not ideal, then it is time to shed those extra pounds. Simply stated, calories taken in must be less than calories burned each day. We achieve this through eating less and/or exercising more. Of course, this lifestyle change is easier said than done, so do not be afraid to seek help. Make an appointment with a weight loss doctor, nutritionist and/ or personal trainer. Get your partner and family involved as this will increase your chances of success. Eating and living in moderation will lead to long-term maintenance of your ideal weight and will keep you healthy for a long life. Most importantly, decreasing obesity will decrease the chances of developing cancer.

By Carolina Vera, D.O.
The Vera Medical Institute