Obesity & Cancer Risk

Weight is a national obsession, and obesity has become a national epidemic. Americans are supersizing, eating too much, and exercising too little. As a result, obesity has become a major cause of preventable disease and death.

The connection between excess weight and a number of health problems, such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease, has been established. But there is a growing body of evidence linking obesity to many cancers and cancer outcomes, although the precise nature of the link may not be clear. Because obesity has been shown to adversely affect prognosis, most survivors should achieve and maintain a healthy weight that is appropriate for their height.

An American Cancer Society study followed more than 9,000 men and women for 16 years. Compared with study subjects of normal weight, the heaviest people had dramatically higher death rates from cancer (all cancers combined): 62% higher for women and 52% higher for men. Researchers estimate that excess weight may account for 20% of cancer deaths in women and 14% in men living in the United States.

Your Body Mass Index

A formula called the Body Mass Index, or BMI, can help you determine a healthy weight for your height. Using the Body Mass Index chart, find the place where your weight and your height intersect. That number is your BMI. The goal is to have a BMI of 18 to 24.9.

  • If your BMI is 25 to 26.9, your goal is to maintain weight and prevent further weight gain.
  • If your BMI is 27 or higher, your goal is to prevent further weight gain and possibly to lose weight to keep BMI below 25. 
  • If your BMI is 30 or higher, the guidelines recommend weight loss. Even a small weight loss (just 10 percent of your current weight) will help to lower your risk of developing diseases associated with obesity. 

Other issues affecting nutrition and weight

For most of us, the challenge to maintain a healthy weight is to lose or prevent extra pounds. But for some cancer survivors, the issue is how to increase their weight back to a healthy level.

Cancer treatment can cause a loss of appetite, or discomfort in biting, chewing, or swallowing. If you are having problems getting enough nutrients because you are not hungry or it hurts to eat, be sure to tell your doctor.

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