Last Updated on February 27, 2024 by Shabnam Sengupta
Cancer is a disease where cells start multiplying without control. The continuously growing cells can form lumps called tumours. Cancer has a dangerous characteristic. Cancerous cells can migrate to different body parts. Signs of cancer include lumps, unusual bleeding, changes in bowel and bladder habits, and a persistent cough. Early detection plays a crucial role in the treatment of cancer. The treatment options are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In this article, we discuss whether obesity causes cancer.
What type of cancer can obesity cause?
In obesity, there is an excessive accumulation of fat in the body. Individuals who have a higher weight than normal fall into the category of obesity. Body Mass Index (BMI) measures whether an individual has a healthy weight or not. Healthy-weight individuals have a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. Over-weight refers to a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9. Obesity refers to a BMI between 30.0 and 39.9.
Obesity relates to the risk of causing 13 cancers. These cancers are post-menopausal breast, colorectal, endometrial, oesophageal, pancreatic, renal, liver, stomach, gallbladder, ovarian, thyroid, multiple myeloma, and meningioma.
Does obesity increase the risk of cancer?
The excessive fat (adipose) tissue in individuals with a higher BMI causes a lot of dysfunctions. These dysfunctions can cause cancer and increase its symptoms. They can even cause cancer cells to migrate in the body (metastasis). Research suggests various mechanisms for how obesity increases the risk of cancer. However, the mechanism by which obesity causes cancer is complex and it needs more study.
The fat tissue acts as an organ in the body. It starts secreting chemicals that may be harmful to the body. For example, it produces an excessive amount of oestrogen, the female sex hormone. Oestrogen can cause an increase in cell division and cell number. Excessive oestrogen levels increase the risk of developing ovarian, breast, and endometrial cancer.
People suffering from obesity produce higher quantities of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in their blood. It happens because obesity results in insulin resistance. It is another risk factor for cancer. Higher insulin and IGF-1 levels increase the likelihood of developing colon, kidney, prostate, and endometrial cancer.
Fat tissue secretes chemicals that can cause inflammation. One such chemical is leptin. It causes inflammation, induces cell division, and prevents cell death. These functions can promote uncontrollable cell growth that happens in cancer. Prolonged inflammation of the fat tissue is linked to the progression of cancer.
In individuals with obesity, chronic inflammatory conditions like gallstones or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease happen. Constant wear and tear from inflammatory chemicals increases the risk of biliary cancer. Obesity may also increase the adverse results of cancer treatment. The chances that obesity causes cancer-related deaths are approximately 17%.
Does losing weight reduce the risk of cancer?
Obesity can be a causal factor for cancer. Reducing weight is part of cancer care for patients with obesity-induced cancers. A study in 2022 found that greater weight loss lowers the risk of cancer. Bariatric surgery for weight loss decreases the risk of developing cancer.
If people with a higher BMI consistently consume a calorie deficit diet, it can cause weight loss. Studies show that a diet deficit of 500-750 kcal per day can reduce weight by 0.5-0.75kg per week. People suffering from obesity should switch to whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. It is best to avoid sugars and solid fats. Cancer patients need to maintain a healthy weight through physical exercise. Studies show a better survival rate for breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer patients who do physical activity. Exercise helps counter the mechanisms through which obesity can cause cancer.
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