The Obesity Epidemic Spawns Another Health Risk: Cancer

Added weight can have disastrous effects on the body, increasing the odds of certain types of cancer.
Obesity increases the risk of aggressive prostate cancer, according to a new study. (Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters)
Sep 24, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

It’s no secret that there’s an obesity epidemic in America. But the side effects from being overweight, including cancer risks, continue to multiply.

Early treatment of prostate cancer, one of the most common cancers in men, is usually very successful. But ScienceDaily reports today that, “obesity increases the risk of aggressive prostate disease. New research, published in BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Medicine, finds that the fat surrounding the prostate of overweight or obese men with prostate cancer provides a favorable environment to promote cancer growth.”

While they note that fat “is a major player in the immune system, which protects the body from infection and disease,” the bad news is that “too much fat can cause these systems to go haywire and can increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

MORE: Facebook-ing Away the Pounds: Social Media Promotes Weight Loss

And this new research shows that, “Regardless of type of prostate disease, the overweight men had different levels of gene activity in the fat surrounding their prostates compared to the lean men.”

To put things in perspective, the National Cancer Institute says that in “One study, using NCI Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results data, estimated that in 2007 in the United States, about 34,000 new cases of cancer in men (4 percent) and 50,500 in women (7 percent) were due to obesity. The percentage of cases attributed to obesity varied widely for different cancer types but was as high as 40 percent for some cancers, particularly endometrial cancer and esophageal adenocarcinoma.”

Earlier this year, the journal Science observed, “Insulin and a related hormone known as insulin-like growth factor (IGF) are now at the center of a growing wave of research around the world aimed at elucidating what many scientists consider to be their critical role in fueling a wide range of cancers. Elevated levels of insulin and IGF are also the leading candidates to explain a significant correlation in epidemiology that has gained attention over the past 30 years: Obese and diabetic individuals have a far higher risk than lean healthy people of getting cancer, and when they do get it, their risk of dying from it is greater.”

Furthermore, in March, USA Today reported, “Although the overall rate of new cancer cases is declining . . . excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle are risk factors for one-quarter to one-third of common cancers in the USA. About one-third of adults—almost 78 million—are obese, roughly 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight.”

They go on to quote physician Marcus Plescia, director of the division of cancer prevention for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said, “I don't think Americans understand the association between cancer and obesity . . . We do know people are afraid of cancer. They know about the links (from obesity) to diabetes, heart disease and arthritis, but many don't know about this. They need to know.”

Consider yourself warned.

Are these findings likely to make you more aware of the dangers of being overweight and motivate you to make changes? 

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |

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