Link between cancer and obesity known

We know there are many health risks from being obese. Obesity also significantly raises the risk for many cancers. According to the National Cancer Institute, obesity is strongly associated with increased risk for the following cancers: cancer of the esophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, breast (after menopause), uterus, kidney, thyroid, gallbladder, and others.

The NCI reports that obesity causes about 85,000 new cancer cases annually in the USA. Every year there are about 34,000 new obesity-related cancers in men, and about 51,000 new obesity-related cancers in women. The highest numbers of obesity-related cancers were cancer of the uterus and cancer of the esophagus. The NCI also projects that if current obesity trends continue in the USA, this will lead to about 500,000 (that’s half a million) additional cancers in the United States by the year 2030.

Let’s define what we mean by obesity. The standard used in health care is body mass index, or BMI. BMI is a calculation based on the height and weight of an individual and, although not perfect, an elevated BMI is usually a fairly accurate assessment of how much extra weight a person may be carrying. Your health care provider can show you how to easily calculate your own personal BMI.

After BMI is calculated, a weight category is assigned based on the following table of values: below 18.5 = underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 = normal, 25.0 to 29.9 = overweight, 30.0 and above = obese. If the BMI number is 40 or greater, this person is considered to be morbidly obese.

In the U.S. today, about 2/3 (68 percent) of adults age 20 years and older are overweight or obese. Further, fully 1/3 of USA children and teens aged 2 to 19 years are now considered to be overweight or obese. Unfortunately, many children who become overweight or obese carry this into adulthood. Clearly, a major factor in our United States obesity epidemic is the fact that the average intake of sugar in the U.S. is 140 to 150 pounds of sugar per person per year, or 2 to 3 pounds of sugar every week!

It has long been known that people who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for many diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, heart and vascular diseases, and stroke. Research now tells us that obesity significantly increases the risk of multiple cancers.

Several theories may explain the association of obesity and cancer. Fat tissue produces estrogen that is associated with breast, endometrial, and other cancers. Obese people have high insulin levels which may promote the development of certain tumors. Fat cells produce extra hormones that may stimulate cancer cell growth and fat cells may also impact tumor growth regulators. Further, obese people often have chronic low-level inflammation, and chronic inflammation is clearly associated with increased cancer risk.

Obesity will decrease life expectancy by about 7 years, and being overweight will decrease life expectancy by about 3 years. Remember, we live by choice, not by chance, so make it your personal healthy choice to deal with any weight issue you might have. If you or any of your family members have a weight problem, make better food choices, talk to your health care provider, seek professional guidance, find a program that will work for you, and get that weight under control.

You will feel so much better, be more active, and significantly decrease your risk for multiple cancers.

Editor’s note: Dr. Jim Surrell, author of “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet,” has his practice at the Digestive Health Clinic at Marquette General Health System. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged. Contact Dr. Surrell by email at