Avoid Obesity to Dodge These Cancers

Which Cancers Are Related to Obesity?

While many daily habits such as smoking are widely recognized by the public as contributors to cancer, the role that obesity plays in the development of this longevity-threatening disease may not be as well known.  Indeed, obesity is regularly blamed as a risk factor for illnesses like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke, but not necessarily cancer.  Here's a look at which cancers are related to obesity, as revealed in a paper published in Lancet in 2014.

Led by epidemiologists (disease-tracking scientists) from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a large study examined which types of cancer were related to a high BMI in a population of 5.24 million adults. After an average followup period of seven and a half years after the first BMI measurement, more than 166,000 people had developed one of 22 different cancers.  These specific illnesses comprise 90% of all cancers diagnosed in the United Kingdom.

Higher BMI, more cancer:  A body mass index greater than 25 is considered overweight, while a BMI greater than 30 indicates obesity.

The researchers found that risk of 13 different cancers was greater with a higher body mass index - either overweight or obese:

  • Uterus (62% greater risk)
  • Gallbladder (31% greater risk)
  • Kidney (25% greater risk)
  • Liver (19% greater risk)
  • Colon (10% greater risk)
  • Cervix (10% greater risk)
  • Leukemia (9% greater risk)
  • Ovarian (9% greater risk)
  • Thyroid (9% greater risk)
  • Postmenopausal breast (5% greater risk)
  • Pancreas (5% greater risk)
  • Rectum (4% greater risk)
  • Esophagus (4% greater risk)

Linear increase:  Among six of the cancers (uterus, gallbladder, kidney, cervical, thyroid and leukemia), a linear relationship was revealed: for for every additional 5 BMI points (eg kg/m2), there was an increased and quantifiable jump in risk.

The link between colon and liver cancers was stronger in men compared with women, note the scientists. 

Which cancers were not linked with higher BMI:  Several cancers were not found to be associated with greater body mass, including cancers of the bladder, central nervous system, rectum, brain, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or multiple myeloma.

Low BMI and cancer risk:  Interestingly, certain cancers were also linked with a lower BMI, such as lung, oral cavity, and stomach cancers.  The researchers note that these illnesses were more prevalent in current (and ex) smokers, who tend to have a lower body mass.  Among subjects who'd never smoked, there was no link between lower BMI and these cancers.

Bottom line:  Obesity is associated with almost half a million new cases of cancer worldwide each year, according to a 2015 report published in Lancet Oncology.  Nearly two-thirds of those obesity-related cancers occur in North America and Europe.

While some researchers argue that other body measures - such as waist to hip ratio and waist to height ratio - are better predictors of disease than body mass index, BMI continues to be used in the tracking of illnesses like heart disease and in this study, cancer.

Following a varied, anti-aging diet, consuming the right number of calories, making sure you're active throughout the day and sitting less (to avoid the hazards of being too sedentary) will help you maintain a healthy weight so you can stay disease-free and mobile for as long as possible as you age.


Bhaskaran, Douglas, Ian, Forbes, Harriet, dos-Santos-Silva, Isabel, Leon, David A and Smeeth, Liam. b"Body-mass Index and Risk of 22 Specific Cancers: a Population-based Cohort Study of 5·24 Million UK Adults." Lancet 2014; 384:755-65.

Arnold M, Pandeya N, Byrnes G, Renehan AG, Stevens GA, Ezzati M, Ferlay J, Miranda JJ, Romieu I, Dikshit R1, Forman D, Soerjomataram I. "Global Burden of Cancer Attributable to High Body-mass Index in 2012: a Population-based Study." Lancet Oncology Volume 16, No. 1, p36–46, January 2015.

Peter T Campbell. "Obesity: a Certain and Avoidable Cause of Cancer." The Lancet, Volume 384, Issue 9945, 30 August–5 September 2014, Pages 727–728.

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