Study: Almost Half a Million Cancers Worldwide Due to Obesity

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Almost half a million cancer cases worldwide are due to the rising rates of overweight and obesity, making many of the most common cancers potentially avoidable, says a new study published in The Lancet Oncology.canstockphoto12101428

The study was funded in part by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) International, which AICR is a member. AICR and WCRF now estimate that approximately 122,000 cases of cancers in the US are due to overweight and obesity.

Researchers in The Lancet study calculated that  481,000 – 3.6% – of all new cancer cases in adults worldwide were attributable to high BMI in 2012, the latest global data available.

Obesity-related cancers are more likely to affect women than men, largely due to endometrial and post-menopausal breast cancers, according to the study. In men, excess weight was responsible for 1.9% or 136,000 new cancers in 2012, and in women it was 5.4% or 345,000 new cases.

The study grouped countries into 12 geographical regions. Almost a quarter of the obesity-related cancers around the world – 23% or 111,000 cases, occurred in North America. The sub-Saharan African region contributed the least: 7,300 cancers or 1.5%.

The study analyzed BMI prevalence in 2002 and cancer incidence in 2012, using a 10-year span that they call a “lag period.” The perception is that excess bodyweight does not initiate cancer, they write, but promotes cancer. Research they cite suggests that follow-up time of 10 years shows that weight loss reduces risk of subsequent cancer risk.

Researchers used the cancers WCRF and AICR report link to overweight and obesity. The obesity-related cancers include colorectal, post-menopausal breast, ovarian and pancreatic. ( Earlier this month, a report released by WCRF International and AICR added advanced prostate cancer to the list of obesity-related cancers for the first time.) Study researchers used global and country-specific data to estimate the percent of cancers caused by obesity.

If the current pattern of weight gain globally continues, note the authors, the burden of cancer will continue to increase, especially in regions such as Latin America, the Caribbean and North Africa, where the largest increases in obesity have occurred over the past three decades.

If you want to know you’re BMI, one measure of excess body fat and cancer risk, you can calculate it on our Weight-Risk page.


Author: Mya Nelson

Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

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