Adult weight gain 'may increase risk of developing cancer'

15 November 2016

People who gain weight during their adult years are likely to see their chances of developing cancer increase as a result, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Manchester and the Health eResearch Centre have analysed data from 300,000 people in the US - including around 177,500 men and 111,500 women - and identified key insights into the link between weight gain that takes place over many years and a heightened risk of contracting an obesity-related cancer.

Data presented at the recent National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference in Liverpool indicated that substantial weight gain over many years can increase the risk of obesity-related cancers in men by as much as half, while for women the chances of cancer rise by almost one-fifth.

Following patients for an average of up to 15 years, the team found that men who went from a body mass index (BMI) of around 22 to 27 had a 50 per cent increased risk of developing obesity-related cancer compared to a male who remained within a healthy weight range. For men who went from being overweight to morbidly obese, meanwhile, the risk went up by 53 per cent.

Additionally, women who went from a BMI of 23 to around 32 were shown to have a 17 per cent higher risk of cancer in comparison to women who started at a healthy weight and maintained it.

Of the 300,000 people in the study, around 9,400 women and 5,500 men were diagnosed with obesity-related cancers after the age of 65.

Dr Hannah Lennon, lead author and researcher at the University of Manchester, said: "This research shows how important it is to look at weight gain over a person's lifetime - to give a clearer picture of cancer risk through life compared to assessing someone’s BMI at a single point.

"This study could also be really useful in public health. It could help identify people who would benefit the most from taking action to control their weight before any health problems arise - including a cancer diagnosis."

The findings add to a body of evidence that already highlights being overweight or obese as the second biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK, after smoking. It is estimated that excess weight contributes to around 18,100 cases of cancer each year.

Cancer types with a proven link to obesity include bowel, breast and pancreatic cancer. Women need to be particularly aware of this issue, as a number of obesity-related cancer types can only affect women, including womb and ovarian cancer.

Sir Harpal Kumar, chief executive of charity group Cancer Research UK - which helped to fund this research - said the data underlines the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight to keep the risk of cancer to a minimum.

He said: "Making small changes in eating, drinking and taking exercise that you can stick with in the long term is a good way to get to a healthy weight - and stay there."

Posted by Philip Briggs

 


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