Wellness & Education

Obesity Cancer Risk Like Smoking

When the “war on smoking” began in 1964, 44% of Americans smoked. Today only 18% of Americans smoke. While these numbers are still far too high, it’s estimated that 8 million lives have been saved by this “war”. 

Like smoking, obesity is strongly linked to increased cancer risks, including the risk of: 

  • getting certain types of cancer 
  • getting cancer again 
  • having negative side effects from cancer treatments 
  • dying from cancer 

The effect of obesity on getting cancer varies according to the type of cancer. Some of the largest increases in risk are: 

  • Liver or Gallbladder Cancer- 51% 
  • Endometrial Cancers in women- 49.2% 
  • Adenocarcinomas- 30.6% 
  • Other cancers risks affected by obesity include esophageal, biliary tract, pancreatic, uteran, ovarian, kidney and thyroid cancers 

The degree to which obesity increases the risk of dying from cancer varies according to the type of cancer. Here are some examples: 

  • breast cancer- 35% 
  • colorectal cancer- 14% 
  • Pancreatic cancer-28% 

The exact mechanisms by which obesity leads to increased cancer risks is poorly understood and probably varies according to particular types of cancer. 

Many people envision body fat as material that just “sits there”, like clothes packed in a suitcase. Unfortunately, fat doesn’t just “sit there”. In many ways fat tissue (and abdominal fat tissue in particular) has many of the functions of an endocrine organ. It secrets compounds that can have a major impact on the biochemistry of the body. Here are some of the ways in which fat affects our bodies. 

  1. Fat produces estrogen. High levels of estrogen can lead to breast, ovarian, endometrial and uterine cancers. 
  2. Fat increases the level of insulin in the blood. This may contribute to colon, prostrate, renal and endometrial cancer. 
  3. Fat increases the secretion of compounds that causes chronic inflammation, which can also lead to cancer.  Obesity and Cancer: A Current Overview of Epidemiology, Pathogenesis, Outcomes, and Management – PMC (nih.gov) 

The “war on smoking” began when the US Surgeon General first recognized the link between smoking and cancer. This revelation eventually led to the kind of awareness that is needed today. This time, however, the culprit isn’t just a bad habit. Instead, it’s a complex health problem that is partially genetic, partially the result of sedentary habits and unhealthy diets and partially the result of environmental circumstance. The sooner we understand that obesity is no safer than smoking, the sooner we can begin our “war” on obesity driven cancer.