The Link Between Obesity and Cancer
You’d have to be living under a rock to not know that obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease, but what about cancer? Does obesity increase your risk of cancer too? And if so, which cancers and why?
42% of all breast and colon cancers diagnosed are among obese people
Obesity and Breast cancer
Prior to menopause, obesity does not appear to raise the risk of developing breast cancer, but after menopause, the story changes. Remember too, that statistically, more women are diagnosed with breast cancer after menopause and/or later in life. Women who are obese are one and a half more times likely to develop breast cancer after menopause than women who are of healthy weights.
The primary reason is likely the difference in estrogen levels. Estrogen naturally drops in women after menopause. Breast cancer is often estrogen-responsive, in other words, excessive estrogen levels can fuel the breast cancer cells and advance them more quickly. Women who are obese carry extra estrogen in their fat cells. After menopause, the levels of estrogen drop so these fat cells release the estrogen in response to the drop. This could be why obese women may develop breast cancer after menopause more than their slimmer counterparts.
Possibly more frightening is that obese women are more likely to die from breast cancer than slimmer women who also have breast cancer. One reason could be that the tumors are detected at later stages. It’s more difficult to detect tumors at early stages in obese women. Another reason could be the overall unhealthy state of an obese woman’s body compared to a woman who has maintained a healthier weight throughout life.
Cancer and the means to fight cancer are very hard on the human body. A person who is obese may be in a very unhealthy state when diagnosed with cancer. Over the years, diet and lifestyle choices may have lead to not only the weight gain, but a number of underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Lack of proper nutrition such as eating nutrient dense foods may have taken its toll on the body making it more difficult for a person who is obese to survive yet another disease such as breast cancer.
Obesity and Colon Cancer
Here’s where obesity's impact on the development of cancer affects men. Although there is not a significant association between obesity and an increased risk of developing colon cancer in women, there has been consistent evidence that a high BMI in men, particularly those with excessive abdominal fat, increases their risk of developing colon cancer. Colon cancer occurs more frequently in obese people overall.
One reason why obesity in women may not raise the risk of colon cancer as much as it does for men, is the way in which the excess fat is distributed. Women tend to gain more weight in the hips, thighs and buttocks whereas men who are obese tend to have excess stomach fat. The excess stomach fat is suspect in the increased risk of colon cancer due to the increased levels of insulin and insulin related growth factors in people who have large amounts of abdominal fat. These levels may encourage colon cancer tumor growth.
And just as seen with breast cancer, there are many correlated factors when it comes to obesity and unhealthy effect it has on the body, as do the dietary and lifestyle choices. Many people who are obese consume unhealthy diets that are low in natural substances known to fight colon cancer.
Fiber is one of these and its intake is frequently low in people who are obese as well as people with colon cancer. Fiber cleanses the digestive tract of toxins and dried fecal matter that can both lead to the development of colon cancer.
Moreover, a diet high in fiber is almost always high in phytochemicals that can fight cancer and help reduce weight at the same time. Natural sources of fiber and phytochemicals are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and more often than not, a person who is obese has probably not been consuming enough of these healthy foods and too many of the unhealthy foods that can lead to the development of cancer.
Does Obesity Raise the Risk of ANY Cancer?
As you’ve just seen with breast and colon cancer, obesity does raise the risk of developing cancer and the mechanisms behind this raised risk could very well be associated with the causes of obesity in the first place. The fact is, consuming an unhealthy diet has a hugely negative effect on overall health. Obesity is just one of the many problems associated with eating too much of the bad foods and not enough of the good foods.
Ultimately, cancer develops as a result of mutated cells that begin to grow uncontrollably and take over healthy tissue. Destroying healthy tissue results in a eventual organ and system failure, which is what eventually can take the life of the person suffering from cancer. The goal of any cancer treatment is to stop the cancer from growing and quite simply, getting the cancer out of the body.
The goal of cancer prevention is to keep the mutated cells from forming in the first place. Although you simply cannot control your genetic predisposition to developing cancer, you can do quite a bit to protect your body from cancer and this needs to happen at the cellular level.
Many of the same methods of reducing cellular damage can also boost your weight loss efforts. Phytochemicals found in natural plant sources can fight free radical damage at the cellular level and help prevent the formation of mutated cells. Some phytochemicals have even been found to reduce tumor growth. In addition, phytochemicals and their sources can help you lose weight by increasing metabolism, decreasing fat formation and decreasing appetite.
Obesity Trends Among US Adults, CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System; The Cancer Project, “How Other Phytochemicals Protect Against Cancer”