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Obesity and Cancer
Photo: Jose Silva Neto
According to a 2006 survey by the American Cancer Society, 83 percent of Americans realize that being overweight boosts their odds of a heart attack and 57 percent know that obesity raises their risk of diabetes. Yet only 17 percent are aware that excess weight could make them more prone to cancer.

“I’m just astounded by how much new information is coming out on obesity and cancer,” says Eugenia Calle of the American Cancer Society. In 2002 a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that people who are overweight or obese have a higher rate of cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney and uterus. “I would now add gallbladder, liver, pancreas and advanced prostate cancers to that list,” states Calle.

Extra pounds account for an estimated 20 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States. And the percentage is growing…because Americans are growing. Susan Taylor Maynes of Yale University says she is seeing cancers now linked to obesity that she hasn’t seen in the past. And that’s scary, Maynes adds, because of the high numbers of people who are overweight or obese. She also states that “our expanding national waistline could reverse some of the progress we’ve made against cancer.”

Lose Headway on Cancer War

“Rates of cancer mortality have been declining because of gains in tobacco control,” says Maynes. “But we can lose that headway if we lose the war on obesity.”

How much extra flab can you carry before your risk goes up? It depends. For some cancers, risk starts to climb even before you cross the line into “overweight.” Calle notes that for breast, colon and endometrial cancer “the risk increases in an almost linear fashion from the very lean to the very heavy.”

Scientists agree that fat tissue isn’t just dormant storage space. It’s an active organ, releasing and receiving signals from other organs. Several theories currently exist to explain how those signals may help turn healthy cells into tumors. (For details see the article titled Cancer: How Extra Pounds Boost Your Risk by Bonnie Liebman in Nutrition Action newsletter.)

So how can you control your girth? Factors such as heredity, metabolism and hormones play a part. But the bottom line is still calories in versus calories out. Fill up on vegetables and fruits and limit calorie-dense foods (those high in fat, sugar and starches). And don’t drink your calories – pure water is your best beverage. Then get moving…and keep moving…through whatever exercise works for you.

All easier said than done, of course. But compared with the alternatives it really doesn’t seem that bad.

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By Brenda Dickerson. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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