Is Obesity Putting Us At Risk of Cancer?
Obesity has been linked to all kinds of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease, but we don’t often think of the effect it might have on cancer. However, obesity is actually one of the main causes of preventable cancers in the UK and the effects of rising obesity are already being seen in younger people.
Rising Cancer and Obesity Levels
A study recently released y the American Cancer Society has found that the kinds of cancer associated with obesity are becoming increasingly common at younger ages. The researchers looked at the rates of 30 different types of cancer, some linked to obesity and some that were unrelated to weight. They found that obesity-linked cancers were becoming more common in people aged 24-49.
The effect was particularly strong in younger adults. It seems that each new generation is experiencing more of these obesity-linked cancers and that they are appearing at younger ages. It is particularly shocking that the six obesity-linked cancers that are increasing in young adults (kidney, gallbladder, pancreatic, colorectal, endometrial and multiple myeloma cancers) used to be mainly seen in people in their 60s and 70s. Millennials were almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic, kidney or colorectal cancer as baby boomers were when they were the same age.
How Does Obesity Cause Cancer?
The recent study wasn’t designed to find the cause of these changes in cancer rates, so other factors, such as changes in exercise habits could also be playing a role. However, what we do know is that obesity and obesity-linked cancers are on the rise. Why does our weight matter when it comes to cancer risk?
Obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer, after smoking. It is estimated that 1 in 20 cases of cancer in the UK are due to obesity. The chances of developing certain types of cancer increases with our weight and with how much of our lives we spend being overweight.
Obesity can increase the chances of developing cancer because we have extra fat cells that are busy sending out signals (growth factors and hormones) to encourage other cells to divide more. The fat cells are signalling that there are plenty of nutrients available for other cells to grow and regenerate. However, when we are overweight or obese they are sending out too many of these signals, which can cause cells to divide more than they should. Eventually, this can lead to errors in the cells that can become cancer.
The good news is that we can reduce our risk of developing cancer by losing weight. Getting rid of your excess weight and keeping it off can prevent cancer as well as other health problems linked to obesity.