We all know that if we are overweight or obese, we have a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes, but the idea that excess weight contributes to our cancer risk is still news for many. But more and more scientific studies are being published showing the connection, and a recent large English study gave details on which specific cancers are increased by excess weight, and by how much.
The researchers, reporting in the 14 August edition of The Lancet, looked for a relationship between weight and the development of 22 cancer types, and found that obesity raised the risk of developing the risk of 10 types of cancers between 9% and 62%.
To better understand the conclusions of the study, let’s review the concept of Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a simple formula that takes into account how tall someone is as well as their weight to determine if they are overweight, normal weight, or underweight. Here you can enter your height and weight to calculate your BMI.
A BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight.
A BMI from 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal.
A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.
A BMI above 30 is considered obese.
The British researchers found that for each increase of 5 in the BMI, that the risk of uterine cancer increased 62%. Here is the complete list of cancers with the increased risk for each increase of 5 in the BMI:
Uterine—62% increased risk
Gallbladder—31% increased risk
Postmenopausal breast cancer—5%
To obtain these conclusions, health information (including BMI) was analyzed on over 5 million individuals during a 7 ½ year period. During this period, 166,000 people developed some form of cancer. The researchers matched the BMI of the individuals affected, with the cancer type, and statistically cancelled out any other factors that could have caused cancers, such as cigarette smoking and heavy drinking.
The reason obesity contributes to the development of certain cancers is not certain, but it is thought to be due to changes in certain hormone levels that accompany obesity, along with the generalized increase in levels of inflammation brought about by increased levels of fat in the body.
Note that this study certainly doesn’t mean if you are fat that you will develop uterine cancer or that if you are thin you will never get cancer. Obesity is just one risk factor to consider.
And, while the study also concluded that prostate cancer and premenopausal breast cancer are a little less likely if your weight is slightly higher than ideal, the vast majority of data suggests the best advice is to keep their BMI within the ideal range to minimize the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
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