Manage your weight, manage cancer risk

The classic phrase, “You could use a little more meat on your bones,” is starting to lose its usefulness. That’s because today, it’s estimated that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

While many people know obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, there’s another risk that many people may not know about—cancer.

“More than one-third of adults in the US are obese—meaning they have a BMI of 30 or greater,” explained Dr. Ryan Horsley, Geisinger bariatric surgeon. “This means that they have an unhealthy amount of fat on their body. Most of the conditions related to obesity, like heart disease, diabetes and stroke are some of the leading causes of preventable death. New research is suggesting that obesity is also contributing to certain types of cancer as well.”

Which cancers are linked to obesity?
Obesity is not definitively linked to cancer, although many studies point to a connection between the two. Based on current studies, researchers are linking obesity to 13 different types of cancer. They are:

    • Endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus)
    • Esophageal adenocarcinoma (a type of esophageal cancer)
    • Gastric cardia cancer (cancer of the upper part of the stomach)
    • Liver cancer
    • Kidney cancer
    • Multiple myeloma (cancer affecting the immune system)
    • Meningioma (brain cancer)
    • Pancreatic cancer
    • Colorectal cancer
    • Gallbladder cancer
    • Breast cancer
    • Ovarian cancer
    • Thyroid cancer

How does obesity cause cancer?
Although we are currently unsure of the exact way that obesity contributes to cancer, there are a few possibilities.

“One possible cause for obesity-related cancer is low-level inflammation,” said Dr. Horsley. “Low-level inflammation comes from constantly increased immune system activity, which can result from a diet high in sugar. Continued low-level inflammation can eventually damage DNA and cause cancer.”

Another possibility is that fat tissue produces excess amounts of estrogen—leading to increased risk of breast, endometrial, ovarian and other types of cancers.

High levels of insulin in the body can also cause cancer. Colon, kidney, prostate and endometrial cancers can all be traced to high insulin levels.

One other possibility is that obesity could alter the chemicals that control cell growth in the body. When those regulating chemicals are affected, cells can begin to grow and develop into cancer.

How you can prevent obesity-linked cancer
“The best way to avoid obesity-related cancers and other obesity-linked conditions is to manage your weight,” suggested Dr. Horsley. “This is easier when done preventatively—it can be difficult to reach a healthy weight, especially if you’re obese. If you are having trouble managing your weight, your doctor can recommend the right mix of dieting, exercising and even weight-loss surgery.”

Losing weight will not only make you feel better, it can also reduce your risk of cancer and a number of other serious health conditions. 

The best way to manage your weight is to live a healthy lifestyle, including:
    • Exercising for 30 minutes a day at least five days a week
    • Eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains
    • Reducing your intake of fatty and sugary foods
    • Using vegetable-based oils rather than animal-based fats

If you’re not sure how to start improving your diet and exercising more, create a health journal. Write down what and when you eat for a week and what you do for exercise, and then review it to see where you can improve. Then, talk with your doctor about your journal and about changes you can make in your diet and exercise regimen.

Dr. Ryan Horsley, DO, is a minimally invasive/bariatric surgeon. He sees patients at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant in Scranton and Geisinger Mt. Pocono. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Horsley, please call 844-703-4262. To learn more about Geisinger’s Center for Nutrition, Weight Management and Metabolic Surgery, please visit Geisinger.org.