Obesity-Related Cancers on the Rise

Obesity-Related Cancers on the Rise | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Obesity-related cancers are on the rise in younger adults, this according to findings of a study that was conducted by The American Cancer Society and recently published in The Lancet Public Health. The study, which looked at millions of health records and examined data between 1995 and 2014, found that the rates of 6 out of 12 obesity-related cancers increased dramatically in millennials – particularly those in their 20s and 30s. The most common cancers linked to obesity, according to this study, included colorectal cancer, uterine cancer, gallbladder cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, and a type of blood cancer known as multiple myeloma. While these cancers were also found to have risen in individuals over the age of 50, those rises were not as steep as those who were younger. Other cancers that are also linked to obesity include thyroid cancer, breast cancer (in post-menopausal women), ovarian cancer, liver cancer, and oesophageal cancer just to name a few.

As for how obesity can lead to cancer, it is a tiered process. When you are overweight and/or obese, the extra fat that you’re carrying doesn’t just sit in your body doing nothing at all. The fat cells create extra hormones (known as adipokines) and growth factors, and those hormones and growth factors then tell the fat cells to divide more rapidly. This rapid divide of fat cells is what ultimate increases the risk of the production of cancer cells, and those cancer cells will then continue to divide and eventually lead to tumours. Individuals who are overweight or obese are also more likely to have chronic low-level inflammation (or disorders that are linked to it.) Over time, this inflammation can result in DNA damage which can also lead to cancer. GERD (also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), for example, is one known cause of esophageal adenocarcinoma; while obesity will also put you at risk of gallstones which are linked to chronic inflammation of the gallbladder. If you have a history of gallstones, then you’re at an increased risk of gallbladder cancer.

Being obese can also worsen many aspects of cancer, including your quality of life in addition to cancer’s progression, recurrence, and prognosis. Fortunately, obesity is preventable as many studies have shown that individuals who weighed less or had a significantly lower weight gain had lower risks of developing cancer – though there have been few studies on the link between weight loss and the risk of cancer. So, in order to prevent your risk of developing cancer, it is important that you maintain a healthy weight throughout your life. Your ideal weight depends on many different factors, including age and gender, height, athletic status, as well as how your body stores fat. That being said, there are many things that we can all do in effort to reach or maintain a healthy weight and I’ve outlined a few helpful tips below.

1. Get regular exercise. Physical activity has many benefits. Not only does it burn calories and help build muscle, but it can also improve the mood and decrease the risk of heart disease. You should be getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, whether it’s walking around your neighbourhood or joining a gym and spending time on a treadmill.

2. Eat healthy. Diet, along with exercise, is one of the most important factors associated with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. If you eat foods that are high in sugar, fat, and carbohydrates, then you’re more likely to gain weight or have trouble losing weight. While a new version of Canada’s Food Guide was recently released, you should still ensure your diet consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, and foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon. It’s also important to watch your portion sizes, and make sure you don’t overeat. You should also be eating at least 3 meals per day (not skipping any!) – the most important being breakfast, as it’s what provides you the fuel you need to get through the day.

3. Reduce screen time. When you spent more time using devices such as smartphones and tablets or spend your days in front of the television or computer screen, you’re less likely to be getting any kind of physical activity which will lead to weight gain. If you find that you’re spending time in front of screens for extended periods, you should instead set aside time to get exercise in. Excessive screen time has also been linked to sleep disorders, such as insomnia, so reducing use of smart devices, TV and computers can also be of benefit to you not just when it comes to losing weight, but if you’re wanting to improve your sleeping habits too.