Recognizing Obesity’s Role in Cancer

World Obesity Day—a day dedicated to raising awareness about the obesity epidemic

Published 3/1/2024
Written By Andrew Wu, MD, FACS, FASMBS, Chief of General Surgery & Bariatric Surgery

Monday, March 4, recognizes World Obesity Day—a day dedicated to raising awareness about the obesity epidemic, advocating for education and treatment, and promoting healthier lifestyles. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, nearly 1 in 3 (30.7%) adults are overweight and more than 2 in 5 adults (42.4%) suffer from obesity. In addition, childhood obesity is expected to increase by 100% in the next 10 years. By 2035, it is estimated that 1.9 billion people globally will be living with obesity, resulting in an estimated global economic impact of 4.3 trillion dollars of obesity-related medical care.

We observed World Cancer Day on February 4th, an annual global initiative aimed at raising awareness about cancer, and promoting detection, prevention, and treatment. There is a strong link between cancer and obesity, as research has shown that obesity often increases the risk of cancer development. Cancer remains the second leading cause of death, with heart disease ranking first. Solid cancers associated with obesity include colon, breast (post-menopausal), uterus, ovaries, esophagus, thyroid, pancreas, gallbladder, liver and kidney. Risk is also increased for blood cell cancers, including myeloma, leukemia, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Fifty-five percent of all cancers diagnosed in women and 24 percent of those diagnosed in men are associated with obesity. 

The science behind the link between obesity and cancer is complex and multifactorial. Researchers have shown that excess weight increases cancer risk due to the increase in inflammatory products in our bloodstream. Chronic inflammation plays an important factor in cancer development by activating proteins and cells that stimulate the unhealthy growth of blood vessels. Additionally, inflammation leads to an increase in the production of particles, called free oxygen radicals,which lead to mutations in our DNA. Fat cells actively release molecules called adipokines, many of which are associated with cancer cell growth.

Obesity not only poses a risk in cancer development but also complicates the treatment process. Obese individuals undoubtedly have higher surgical complications with poorer surgical outcomes, slower wound healing, and increased hospital length-of-stays. When looking at treatment for a variety of cancers, chemotherapy is often used. In various cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, obesity has been shown to decrease effectiveness. Lowering obesity rates may be a crucial step in improving cancer prevention and treatment. Studies have shown that avoiding weight gain or losing weight reduces cancer risk, with stronger evidence showing this relationship in those who have undergone weight loss (bariatric) surgery. Ongoing research continues to be done exploring all of the mechanisms that link obesity and cancer.

The team at Catholic Medical Center’s New England Weight Management Institute (NEWMI) has been an established program for over two decades focused on obesity treatment. NEWMI offers comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, advanced surgical and medical weight loss options supported by a dedicated team of surgeons, medical weight loss physicians, advanced practice providers, registered dietitians, behavioral health specialists and on-site exercise physiologists. With a proven track record of over 3,700 weight loss surgeries, treating obesity is achievable through the dedicated guidance of a professional weight loss program, providing access to the many new advancements in surgical technology and a growing market of various anti-obesity medications.

Take the first step towards a healthier you—register for a free online info session today—click here to register online or call 603.663.7377. Your weight loss journey begins with us.