Obesity and Cancer Risk


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“A critical weekly review of important new research findings for health-conscious readers”


We have become the heaviest people in the history of our species, with two-thirds of Americans officially classified as overweight, and one of every three of us tipping the scales into the “obese” range.  For too many of us, day after day, we load our bodies with more fat- and calorie-packed foods than our bodies can utilize.  Surrounded by effort-saving devices that have drastically reduced the amount of food-derived energy that our bodies can reasonably metabolize, a majority of Americans are becoming progressively heavier and heavier.  Moreover, obesity now affects a shocking percentage of children and adolescents in our society, and it is no longer uncommon to see children and teenagers with obesity-related diseases, previously seen only in adults, like diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, gallstones, and cardiovascular disease.

In addition to chronic illnesses that have long been associated with obesity, it has become increasingly clear that the risk of multiple different types of cancer is also increased by obesity.  Now, a newly published public health study, which appears in a forthcoming issue of The Lancet Oncology, underscores the disturbing extent to which excess weight increases our risks of several different common types of cancer.

In this huge public health study, more than 400,000 patient volunteers from Asia, Australia, and New Zealand were followed for an average of 4 years.  When obese study volunteers (BMI of 30 or higher) were compared with volunteers of normal weight (BMI less than 25), the obese volunteers were found to have a 21 percent higher risk of death due to cancer.  The risk of dying of certain specific types of cancer were even higher among the obese volunteers, including a 50 percent increased risk of death due to colon cancer, a 68 percent increased risk of death due to rectal cancer, a 63 percent increased risk of death due to breast cancer (in postmenopausal women), a 162 percent increase in the risk of dying of ovarian cancer, a 321 percent increase in the risk of death due to cancer of the cervix, a 45 percent increase in the risk of death due to prostate cancer, and a 66 percent increase in the risk of dying from leukemia.

The findings of this enormous public health study are worrisome, to say the least, and reflect the very serious impact that obesity has on our risk of developing cancer, and the risk of dying from cancer.

Obesity is a growing public health problem in the United States and, increasingly, around the world; and the list of chronic, major illnesses associated with obesity continues to expand (along with our collective waistlines).  If you are overweight or obese, then please consult with your physician for advice on how best to lose your excess weight.  Meanwhile, sharply reduce your intake of high-calorie and high-fat foods, and begin a responsible and consistent exercise program, under your physician’s supervision. 


For a more detailed discussion of the scientific links between obesity and cancer, look for the publication of my new landmark book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” in August of this year. 

Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, a professor of surgery, a cancer researcher, an oncology consultant, and a widely published author

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