Ask Your Doctor: OBESITY AND CANCER
In the past few years there has been much concern about the increasing incidence of various cancers in Anguilla. There might be many factors influencing this increase, but nutrition and body weight have been shown to be associated with many cancers in many countries. There is no doubt that if you are obese, you are more likely to develop several potentially serious health problems including cancer. One recent British study found that obese women have a 40 percent higher risk for cancer than thinner women.
Does body weight affect cancer risk?
Many researchers have shown that as many as 1 out of 5 of all cancer-related deaths is related to excess body weight. Excess body weight may affect cancer risk through several mechanisms, some of which might be specific to certain cancer types. Being overweight or obese is clearly linked with an increased risk of many cancers, including cancers of the following:
• Breast (in women past menopause)
• Colon and rectum
• Endometrium (lining of the uterus)
Being overweight or obese might also raise the risk of other cancers such as:
• Multiple myeloma
• Aggressive forms of prostate cancer
In addition, having too much belly fat (that is, a larger waistline), regardless of body weight, is linked with an increased risk of colon and rectal cancer, and is probably linked to a higher risk of cancers of the pancreas, endometrium, and breast cancer (in women past menopause). The links between body weight and cancer are complex and are not yet fully understood.
The timing of weight gain might also affect cancer risk. Being overweight during childhood and young adulthood might be more of a risk factor than gaining weight later in life for some cancers. More research is needed to better define the links between body weight and cancer. The large number of obese children in Anguilla is of great concern to health professionals here as the long-term complications can be devastating.
Does losing weight reduce cancer risk?
There are many health benefits for having an ideal weight. There are many studies taking place to decide if losing weight can lower the risk of developing cancer. There is growing evidence that weight loss might reduce the risk of breast cancer (after menopause), more aggressive forms of prostate cancer, and possibly other cancers. Having an ideal weight does not guarantee that you will not develop cancer but it will not harm you.
Other factors associated with cancer
We know that our cancer risk depends on a combination of our genes, our environment and other aspects of our lives – many of which we can control. If you have concerns about your cancer risk, talk to your healthcare provider for more information.
While we still have much to learn about the link between weight loss and cancer risk, people who are overweight or obese should be encouraged and supported if they try to lose weight. There are other things you can do to reduce the risk of getting cancer. Lifestyle changes — like not smoking, eating a healthy diet and cutting back on alcohol — are the big opportunities for us all to personally reduce our cancer risk. Aside from possibly reducing cancer risk, losing weight can have many other health benefits such as lowering the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits, and if you are overweight or obese you can start losing some weight today regardless of your age. You do not have to join a gym or run a mile to get good results. Doing small things, long-term, can be beneficial. Talk to your healthcare provider today.
Ask Your Doctor is a health education column and is not a substitute for medical advice from your physician. The reader should consult his or her physician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field are ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.
Dr Brett Hodge MB BS DGO MRCOG, is an Obstetrician/Gynaecologist and Family Doctor who has over thirty-two years in clinical practice. Dr Hodge has a medical practice in The Johnson Building in The Valley (Tel: 264 4975828).