Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
Nowadays, it seems that we can’t turn on the TV or go to our favorite social media feed without seeing a claim that something causes cancer. Some of these claims are odd but true, some seem plausible but end up being completely false. Then there are some that have us scratching our heads. I mean, take Smoking and Bladder Cancer – how does that even work!?! Another one that can seem confusing is obesity and cancer risk. We all know the dangers of obesity – diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure – these sadly go hand in hand, but cancer? How does that work? Let’s take some time today to understand how obesity and cancer are linked, as well as what types of cancer are involved.
Obesity and Inflammation
Inflammation is a normal response from our bodies to damage. Think of any injury that you have had – be it a cut, a sprained ankle, or a broken bone. The tissues around this injury become swollen as various cells swoop into the damaged area in an effort to repair the injury. This is an inflammatory response that is made by a healthy body – it is repairing damage.
In obesity, however, the inflammation can occur in our abdominal organs. MD Anderson explains to us that these fat cells are large, and don’t have a lot of room for oxygen. This oxygen starvation triggers inflammation. Chronic inflammation, such as what is seen in obesity, is far different from that normal response trying to heal a cut or bruise. Chronic inflammation can lead to a lot of things, including damage to our cells’ DNA.
Another affect that obesity and inflammation have on our bodies is insulin resistance. You hear about this a lot in conversations about diabetes. Basically, your body becomes almost immune to its own insulin, which makes your pancreas think it needs to kick into overdrive and produce more. Increased insulin levels can increase estrogen levels. We’ve talked previously about how estrogens can trigger cell growth and cancers such as breast and endometrial cancers. MD Anderson provided this awesome graphic to help you better understand the link.
Types of cancer influenced by obesity
Some further data from the American Cancer Society tells us that there are a few main types of cancer with known links to obesity. These are:
- Post-menopausal breast cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Colon and rectum cancers
- Pancreatic cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Esophageal cancer
What can you do?
As with most methods of cancer prevention, it begins with a healthy lifestyle. Exercise and eating right are always high on the list. This can be a confusing and daunting task with a new fad diet popping up seemingly every day.
The Centers for Disease Control recommend using body mass index as a screening tool for the identification of obesity. I want to make sure you understand that BMI is a screening tool that looks at the ratio of your height to weight. The ratio does not take into account your body frame (the so-called petite frame or big boned physique). Its also worth noting that this screening tool utilizes the same criteria for men versus women.
If you are concerned about your weight, or that you may fall into the obese category, please visit with your physician. They can do a more detailed exam that takes into account all of those factors. Before you implement any major lifestyle change, visit with your doctor. He or she can give you the latest guidance on healthy diet and exercise plans. They may also recommend that you visit with a dietician that can expertly tailor a food plan for your individual needs.
It is never too late to take an active roll in helping your body prevent cancer on its own. A healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be a resolution that fades as January comes to a close – it’s a lifelong commitment to giving your body the best!
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!