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Life After Cancer A Roadmap for Cancer Survivors

Obesity, Cancer, and Survival
Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD

Current research points the finger at diet, sedentary lifestyles and smoking as major causes of cancer. In particular, being overweight is approaching epidemic proportions in the United States and is one of the leading causes of ill health. Overweight and obesity have become a major comorbid problem. The ACS has reported that although 83% of Americans know that obesity is related to heart disease, 57% know the relationship to diabetes, but only 17% know that an increase in weight increases the risk for cancer.

It is estimated that 20% of all cancer-related mortality is associated with patients having an overweight or obese body mass. An elevated Body Mass Index (BMI) or increased waist circumference is correlated with reduced longevity. When you lose weight you can reduce your cancer risk and promote your longevity.

Postmenopausal breast, endometrial (uterine), colon, kidney, pancreas, and aggressive prostate cancers have been studied extensively and show a direct relationship to overweight and obesity. Many other cancers are also linked with overweight and obesity including adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, gallbladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Many other comorbid diseases are also related to excess weight, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and gallbladder disease.

How Obesity Increases Cancer Risk
Cancer risk is associated with the metabolism of fats and sugars; these affect hormones, including insulin, insulin-growth factors, and estrogen (estradiol) which can ultimately affect the regulation of cancer and normal cell proliferation and can promote cancer.

Excess fats in your diet can create free radicals that can damage the cell membrane and may cause cells to become cancerous. Fruits and vegetables in the diet contain phytochemicals that help neutralize excess free radicals, and may reduce their toxic effects. Unfortunately, between 25-42% of survivors consume inadequate amounts of fruits and vegetables.

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First appeared January 15, 2008; updated August 2, 2008