There is more evidence than ever before showing that a person’s weight influences the risk for cancer.
At its core, good health means maintaining your weight.
There are 18 obesity-related cancers that affect women and men, according to Dr. Valena Wright, a gynecologist at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. Of all the cancers associated with obesity, uterine cancer has the strongest correlation with excess weight.
Living with excess weight has become a global problem. The World Health Organization estimates 1.9 billion adults across the globe are overweight, with over 650 million of those obese.
“Millennials are going to have cancer at younger ages and in greater numbers than their parents,” Dr. Wright said. “It is unfortunate to see very young women with uterine cancer who may not have the option of fertility-sparing treatments. Older women with uterine cancer now are sicker often with excessive weight and obesity-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease adding to the complexity of their health care.”
She added that progress made in reducing cancer mortality has been slowed by this new development.
“It’s important to address weight early on,” Dr. Wright said. It is estimated that one-third of all cancers could be prevented by addressing known risk factors.
A recent study by the American Cancer Society pointed out the growing risk of certain weight-related cancers in younger people in the United States. The study appeared last month in The Lancet.
“The risk of cancer is increasing in young adults for half of the obesity-related cancers, with the increase steeper in progressively younger ages,” Ahmedin Jemal, co-author of the study and vice president of the Surveillance and Health Services Research Program for the American Cancer Society, said in a news release.
The risk was increasing in a step-wise manner in successively younger people.
“The findings from this study are a warning for increased burden of obesity-related cancer in older adults in the future,” said Jemal.
For health care providers, addressing these incremental weight gains is of critical importance.
Patients may find this topic defensive, but Dr. Wright stressed the importance of losing excess pounds rather than viewing an expanding waistline as a typical part of aging.
For example, women tend to gain weight with their first baby, Dr. Wright said. It’s common for some of the weight to stick around. Years later, during menopause, women commonly experience a second weight gain. A change in hormones, a sedentary lifestyle and lack of sleep all add up and adversely affect our metabolism.
Society has normalized weight gain for both these periods of a woman’s life, but it doesn’t have to happen. “To address weight gain, there needs to be a holistic approach. It’s important to recognize the problem and make your health a priority,” Dr. Wright said.
Fortunately, obesity medicine has many new treatment options both medical and surgical to help. When combined with lifestyle interventions, such as the importance of adequate sleep, nutrition, physical activity and controlling stress, quality of life improves with the added benefit of weight loss.
For more information on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, speak with your primary care physician.