In 2002, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conducted a scientific review of studies investigating the connection between excess body fat and a cancer diagnosis … and the panel of cancer experts discovered ample evidence to suggest a strong cause and effect link between the two.
Fourteen years later, the IARC has conducted a follow-up analysis of more than 1000 relevant studies published since its first examination in 2002. The link remains stronger than ever, with 8 new cancers added to the list.
Cancers Implicated in the First Review
In 2002, the IARC reported that excess body weight increased one’s risk for the following cancers:
- Colon and rectum cancers
- Esophagus adenocarcinoma (a stomach cancer)
- Kidney or renal cell carcinoma
- Postmenopausal breast cancer
- Cancer in the endometrium of the uterus
New Cancers Called Out in the 2016 Review
The new report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, adds 8 new cancers to the list:
- Gastric cancer
- Liver cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Multiple myeloma (a blood cancer)
- Pancreatic cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Meningioma (a cancer that affects the tissue surrounding the brain and spine)
The panel, made up of 21 cancer experts, named corpus uteri (cancer of the uterus) and esophagus adenocarcinoma as the two cancers that pose the highest risk.
Scientists believe that excess body fat activates chronic inflammation throughout the body. Chronic inflammation, in turn, interferes with the production and modulation of sex hormones, which act as pathways for the growth and development of cancer cells.
Of course, the link doesn’t hold up for all cancers. Cancers not associated with excess weight include prostate cancer, premenopausal breast cancer, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, lung cancer, and cancers of the testis, urinary bladder, brain, and spinal cord.
Isn’t the link between obesity and cancer common knowledge? Apparently not. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), as of February 2014, nearly 50% of Americans did not know that being overweight could significantly increase cancer risk.
Hopefully sharing the knowledge can help put a dent in the alarming increases in obesity we’ve experienced over the past forty years. IARC researchers noted that in 2014, approximately 640 million people worldwide were obese—6 times more than in 1975! And in 2013, 4.5 million deaths were attributed to obesity.
We ultimately have control over our weight, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Genetics and environmental factors are less manageable, but by eating healthier and moving more, we can greatly reduce our risk for not just cancer, but all chronic diseases.
Speaking with CNN, Alice Bender, head of nutrition programs for AICR, said: “Oftentimes people are concerned about exposures in the environment or genetics or things you can’t control. Rather than increase fear about this, we can see this as an empowering message: Here is something I can do to help myself lower the risk for many of these cancers … here are some lifestyle changes that I can make.”
Many people have tremendous success losing weight by switching to a plant-based diet. If you are interested in making that switch yourself, consider joining Underground Health Reporter’s supportive new Facebook community for Plant-Based Wellness. We would love to see you there!