Obesity and Cancer: Surprising Statistics

You may know that being overweight can lead to diabetes and heart disease. But did you know that obesity also increases the risk of developing cancer?

Dr. Phil's nephew Tony, who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, did not.

At 468 pounds, Tony couldn't get a diagnosis for his unusual symptoms because his weight prevented him from fitting in the MRI machine. After getting started on Dr. Phil's program and losing some of the weight, he found out he had lymphoma cancer.

Now, his goal is not only to beat the cancer — but also to reach a healthy weight — so he will no longer be in a higher risk group for cancer.

"Analysis of the statistics related to cancer deaths in the United States has proven without a doubt that the risk of dying from cancer increases with increasing degrees of obesity," says Denise Bruner, M.D., an obesity specialist.

Dr. Bruner cites research showing that men with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater — 100 plus pounds over their ideal body weight — have a 52 percent higher death rate for cancer. Women whose BMI is 40 or more have a 62 percent higher death rate. For both sexes, being overweight carries a greater risk of developing several types of cancer, including esophagus, colon, rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas and kidney.

"Current estimates from the American Cancer Society predict that up to one third of the cancer deaths — approximately 186,000 lives — could be saved every year if people could maintain a BMI of 25 or less," Dr. Bruner points out.

You need not know your BMI to aim for a healthy weight. Another method is to determine your waist circumference by placing a measuring tape snugly around your waist. This is a good indicator of your abdominal fat, which is another predictor of your risk for developing risk factors for heart disease and other diseases, including cancer. This risk increases with a waist measurement of over 40 inches in men and over 35 inches in women.

The correlation between obesity and cancer is not as fully understood as the link between smoking and cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, one dominant theory is that obesity and inactivity can cause the body to produce higher amounts of insulin and other growth factors. Over a long period of time, cells exposed to high levels of these substances may begin to reproduce so quickly that cancer becomes more likely.

The good news is that certain lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and increased physical activity, can help reduce the risk of developing cancer. Other cancer preventatives that Dr. Bruner recommends are:
  • Drinking at least 64 ounces of water daily.
  • Limiting or avoiding processed foods.
  • Limiting white sugar, white flour and simple carbohydrates.
  • Consuming as many organically grown and hormone-free foods as possible.
  • Taking a multi-vitamin containing antioxidants, preferably one free of yeast, dyes, sugar, dairy, soy, corn or gluten.

By incorporating some of the above lifestyle changes, as well as undergoing chemotherapy, Tony has a 90 percent chance of beating his cancer. Keeping a positive mindset, he says, has also kept him on the road to recovery.

Denise E. Bruner, M.D. (www.drdenisebruner.com) is a second generation physician who is also a second generation graduate from Howard University College of Medicine. She joined the American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP) in 1983, and became certified by the American Board of Bariatric Medicine in 1985.

Related Research

  • American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org
  • American Institute for Cancer Research: www.aicr.org
  • National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/bmicalc.htm

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