Does Overweight and Obesity Cause Cancer?

Updated on & Medically Reviewed by Dr Lalitha

Obesity is becoming the fastest growing health problem in the world and associated with it, is the rise of life-threatening diseases such as obesity-related cancers.

  • Overweight and obesity are major health problems in India and are increasing due to various reasons.
  • There is an increase in the prevalence of cancers in India.
  • The common cancers which occur in men with overweight & obesity are lung, prostate, colon, stomach, kidney, and liver cancers.
  • Obesity is not only a risk factor for the development of cancers, but also for a higher chance of cancer recurrence, aggressive cancers, and lower survival and increased death rates.
  • Younger men who are overweight are considered to have a greater risk for developing cancers.

Overweight and Obesity

Usually, the terms overweight and obesity are used, when your weight is more than the normal healthy weight for your height, ie your BMI is above the normal range and when your waistline is more than the normal size.

WHO criteria are usually followed for measuring obesity. For the Asian population the following measures are considered:

Men – Waist circumference > 85 cm

Waist Hip Ratio (WHR) > 0.90BMI = (Kg per square meter)

Overweight = 25.0 – 29.9

Obesity = > 30

What Causes Overweight and Obesity?

Overweight and obesity are caused due to energy imbalance in the body leading to the deposition of extra fat in the body. Intake of more calories and spending or burning lesser calories cause the extra calories to deposit as fat in the tissues of the body.

So eating more or eating frequently, with lack of physical activity makes a person to gain more weight due to deposition of extra fat which results in overweight and obesity that cause many health problems.

Does Obesity Increase the Risk for Cancer?

We know that cancer is a disease that occurs due to an abnormal, uncontrolled multiplication of cells. May be caused by cell damage due to various reasons, leading to abnormal growth of the tissues, that form a tumor or mass. This tumor or mass grows and causes damage to the organ, its adjacent structures, and can spread to other organs of the body and damage them too.

Excess body fat in obese persons is a risk factor for developing cancers. Many mechanisms have been proposed, a few of which are mentioned below.

  • Chronic low-grade chronic inflammation caused in the visceral fat cells around the abdomen may cause damage to body cells and DNA in the long term, increasing the risk for cancer.
  • Altered sex hormone metabolism such as estrogen or testosterone, triggering the abnormal growth of cells in the body and the development of cancers.
  • Altered signaling of certain substances such as Insulin-like growth factors and tumor growth factors etc. which can increase abnormal cell growth.

Does Weight Loss Help in Reducing the Risk for Developing Obesity Associated Cancers?

There is growing evidence from studies, that weight gain in men increases the risk for developing certain cancers and it was also found that losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, helps men to reduce the risk for developing cancers, prevent recurrence of cancers, respond better to cancer treatment and for better survival.

Different Types of Cancer that Occur in Obese Men

1. Head and Neck Cancers:

This refers to cancers that can occur in the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx. They are aggressive and can spread to other parts of the body quickly. Head and neck cancers can present with symptoms such as non-healing mouth ulcers, change in voice, swallowing difficulty, chronic cough, lump or mass in the neck, and pain in the throat.

2. Lung Cancers:

Overweight is also a risk factor for lung cancers, the main being smoking. Obesity causes decreased lung function and lung damage which increases the risk for developing cancers. Lung cancer can present with symptoms of chronic cough, hemoptysis (coughing blood), breathlessness, chest pain, etc.

3. Brain Cancers:

Obesity has been a risk factor for brain or CNS tumors like meningiomas and gliomas. Meningiomas are found to occur more in overweight and obese men. Symptoms associated with brain tumors are headache, weakness in limbs, fits or seizures, visual problems, loss of consciousness loss of coordination, etc.

4. Gastrointestinal Cancers:

There is evidence that obesity is a risk factor for major gastrointestinal cancers such as colorectal cancer, gall bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, esophageal cancer, and stomach cancer.GI cancers can present with symptoms such as acidity, indigestion, vomiting, haematemesis (blood vomiting), black stools, bleeding per rectum, pain abdomen, ascites (fluid in the abdomen), altered bowel habits, etc.

5. Urogenital Cancers:

The common cancers occurring in the urogenital system of obese men are kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and prostate cancer. Smoking and obesity increase the risk for bladder cancer. Overweight and obesity increase the risk for the development of prostate cancer, the aggressive progression of the disease and reduces the survival rates. Urogenital cancers can present with symptoms such as dysuria (difficulty in passing urine), hematuria, pain abdomen, and swollen feet.

Natural Ways to Reduce Weight and its Associated Risk for Cancers

  • Maintain a healthy weight and normal BMI.
  • Eat a healthy diet including essential nutrients and foods with less fat, sugar, and salt. Include certain foods such as fish, dark leafy vegetables, pomegranate, cranberry, broccoli, etc which may some protective effects.
  • Use of natural dietary supplements/herbs that may help to reduce weight gains such as garcinia, asana, ginger, lemon, green tea, and fenugreek seeds.
  • Avoid excess alcohol, restrict smoking and tobacco.
  • Stay active and exercise regularly.
  • Get adequate rest and good quality sleep.

Cancer is a disease that disturbs a person’s life, as it affects the physical, mental, and emotional health of a person. Since cancer care is prolonged, expensive, and unpredictable. The ability to comply and withstand cancer treatments is also difficult. Prevention by avoiding the risk factors is very important and is the best measure to reduce risk.

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Weight reduction and maintaining a healthy weight and BMI is important for men to stay healthy and fit, with a low risk for developing obesity-associated cancers.

So, take charge, don’t be large. 

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