Is Obesity Raising Your Risk of Cancer?

Most people know that obesity, which is defined as having an unhealthy amount of body fat, greatly increases your risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea or stroke. But did you know that  obesity also increases the risk of many cancers?

According to some research, about 100,000 new cases of cancer per year are caused by obesity. Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of many types of cancer including colon, breast, esophageal, stomach, liver, pancreatic, gall bladder, kidney, ovarian, endometrial and thyroid.

Dr. Eric Wohl, an internal medicine physician at Memorial Hermann Medical Group in Central Pearland, said that recent medical research is advancing our knowledge of how obesity leads to an increased risk of cancer.

Obesity causes inflammation in the esophagus, colon, liver and gallbladder, according to Dr. Wohl. This inflammation can lead to an increased risk of cancer of these organs.

Other forms of cancer, such as breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer, have been linked to higher estrogen levels in our bodies caused by obesity, Dr. Wohl said.

Increased levels of another body hormone called insulin-like growth factor have been linked to colon, endometrial, prostate and kidney cancers.  Other types of hormones produced by fat cells, such as adipokines, cause cell growth that’s been linked to the rapid cell growth typical of cancer.

In addition, scientists are finding an ever-increasing number of detrimental chemical effects in the human body linked to obesity that can increase your risk of cancer, Dr. Wohl said.

“Sadly, the typical American diet with its processed foods, saturated fats, partially hydrogenated oils and refined carbohydrates is unhealthy and puts the average American at increased risk for many diseases including cancer,” he says. “Understanding the value of a proper diet and having a serious commitment to changing your  lifestyle from unhealthy to healthy are the first steps to improving and maintaining your health, and reducing your risk of cancer.”

Dr. Wohl offers 10 helpful steps to improve your health and reduce your risk of developing cancer.

  • 1. Avoid highly processed and fast foods that contain trans fats.
  • 2. Eat foods mostly derived from fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, peas and lentils.
  • 3. Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits including green, red, blue, purple, orange and yellow types. The antioxidants in these types of food protect a person from cancer and over-eating due to their fiber content.
  • 4. When eating out, opt for healthier options, check the number of calories before ordering and split a dish with a friend.
  • 5. Avoid excessive sugar-containing foods such as soda and candy and limit fruit juice to one cup a day.
  • 6. Choose lean meats like fish and poultry with the skin removed.
  • 7. Eat foods with healthy unsaturated fats like nuts, fatty fish, avocados and olive oil, but limit portion size because they are high in calories.
  • 8. Substitute olive oil for butter and use healthy spices to flavor your food instead of salt.
  • 9. Choose non-fat or low-fat dairy products.
  • 10. Strive to get the proper nutrients from healthy food instead of taking supplements.


“Diet alone is not as effective at achieving a healthy body weight as diet combined with exercise,” Dr. Wohl adds. “Always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program or routine.”

To find a physician who can help you improve your health, click here.

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Ali Vise