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Is body weight a cancer risk factor?

A recent study published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians reveals the association between body weight and cancer risk factors.

Studies have shown that excess body weight can cause many chronic diseases and can decrease life expectancy.

Throughout the years, there has been an increase in the rates of obesity and its association with cancer risk factors. The number of individuals being diagnosed as overweight has been on a steady incline worldwide.

In a recent article published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, researchers sought to determine whether excess body weight is a cancer risk factor. The researchers measured observed and obtained the body mass index of women, men, and children globally.

They focused on high-income and low-income areas in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa region.

Excess body weight has been linked to 13 types of cancers

They found that excess body weight was responsible for about 3.9% (544,300) of all cancers worldwide in 2012.

In 2016, about 40% of adults and 18% of children were overweight. This number equals around 2 billion adults and 340 million children worldwide.

Specifically, they found that excess body weight and obesity have been linked to risk factors for 13 types of cancers: breast, colon and rectum, corpus uteri, esophagus, gallbladder, kidney, liver, meningioma, multiple myeloma, ovary, pancreas, stomach, and thyroid.

Recently, an increase in body weight has also been looked at as a probable cause of advanced prostate cancer and cancer of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx.

In women, excess body weight is responsible for 98,400 of 317,000 cases of endometrial cancers and 2.200 of 7,300 cases of esophageal adenocarcinomas. However, excess body weight is only responsible for 4% of ovarian cancers.

In men, 29% of esophageal adenocarcinoma cases were caused by excess body weight, compared to about 6% of cancers of the pancreas, colorectum, or thyroid.

Intentional weight loss can reduce overall cancer rates

The study shows that excess body weight is responsible for cancer risk factors and this risk is twice as high in women compared to men.

High-income western countries accounted for about 46% of all cancer cases. They found that intentionally losing weight results in a reduction of 24-78% of overall cancer rates.

The World Health Organization created two recommendations to prevent and control excess body weight and its association with cancer risk factors. They first created interventions to improve the food system/environment and environment.

The second intervention is behavioral change communication. Both focused on reducing unhealthy diets and reducing physical inactivity.

One limitation experienced in the study is having a limited amount of studies available regarding weight loss and cancer risks.

This is a major problem, as there is a lower number reported on individuals who maintain a healthy weight.

Another limitation experienced in the study is a lack of resources and education that are readily available around the world. Researchers found if everyone had access to certain resources, the number of people diagnosed as overweight or obese would decrease.

The authors suggest that although population-level efforts are an area of focus, they should be increasing access to healthcare interventions for weight management.

They also suggest the interventions be focused on education and opportunities for maintaining a lifestyle change.

Written by Nicole A. Brown, MS


  1. Sampson, D. (2018). Excess body weight responsible for nearly 4 percent of cancers worldwide. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from
  2. Sung, H., Siegel, R. L., Torre, L. A., Pearson‐Stuttard, J., Islami, F., Fedewa, S. A., Goding Sauer, A., Shuval, K.,Gapstur, S. M., Jacobs, E. J., Giovannucci, E. L. and Jemal, A. (2018), Global patterns in excess body weight and the associated cancer burden. CA A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. doi:10.3322/caac.21499


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