More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight and obese, making this an important topic for people living with cancer. When a person is overweight or obese, it means that they have too much body fat in relation to lean body tissue, such as muscle.

Many factors can cause people to become obese. These include genetic, hormonal, environmental, emotional, and cultural factors. People who are overweight have a higher risk of many serious health conditions, including type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Being overweight is also associated with an increased risk of many types of cancer.

Understanding weight gain and cancer risk

Several studies have explored why being overweight or obese may increase cancer risk and growth. The possible reasons that obesity is linked with cancer include:

  • Increased levels of insulin and insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which may help some cancers develop
  • Chronic, low-level inflammation, which is more common in people who are obese and is linked with an increased cancer risk
  • Higher amounts of estrogen produced by fat tissue, which can drive the development of some cancers, such as breast and endometrial cancerFat cells may effect processes that regulate cancer cell growth.

How your weight changes throughout your life may also affect your risk for cancer. Studies have shown that the following factors can affect your cancer risk:

  • High birth weight
  • Gaining weight as an adult
  • Losing and regaining weight repeatedly

Research suggests that maintaining a healthy weight is associated with a lower risk of cancer and of the cancer returning in survivors.

Types of cancer linked with an increased weight

Being overweight or obese has been linked to these cancers:

  • Breast
  • Colorectal
  • Uterine
  • Kidney
  • Head and neck
  • Esophageal
  • Pancreatic
  • Endometrium
  • Prostate
  • Gallbladder
  • Thyroid
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