What Is the Link Between Obesity and Colorectal Cancer?

July 30, 2019

One of the biggest health threats around the world is obesity. Knowledge about this condition and its causes are widespread yet the epidemic keeps rising. The adverse effects of obesity include conditions like type II diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. However, obesity has also been linked to the development of certain types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. 

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer among men and women in the United States. Even though rates have been declining due to an increase in screenings and colonoscopies, the rise in obesity rates threatens the progress made by health officials. The main risks of developing colorectal cancer includes having a poor diet, lacking regular exercise, and being deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, like calcium. Developing obesity has identical risk factors which establishes a link between the two diseases that makes treating each condition difficult.

Obesity can change the function of essential hormones like insulin and leptin. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar and obese individuals have higher levels of insulin than those with a normal weight. This causes cell functions to change as the hormones cause irregular cell growth in the colon. Leptin is a hormone responsible for inducing a feeling a satiety and causes someone to stop eating. Levels of this hormone are up to five times higher than nonobese patients. Leptin is also responsible for cell growth in areas of the colon and, with five times as much exposure, these cells can grow uncontrollably which may create tumors.

While obesity is a major disease, it can still be treated. This can be done through many ways, but the most effective methods are establishing a good nutritional diet and a consistent exercise regimen. Good diet and exercise habits are essential for patients undergoing treatment as it can help prevent weight loss, lack of appetite and other adverse effects. Establishing these positive behaviors has numerous physical and mental health benefits and can also prevent other diseases besides colorectal cancer and obesity. 

Below are the guidelines from the American Cancer Society (ACS) on how to maintain good nutritional habits to help manage cancer:

  • Get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week
    • 1 hour per day for kids at least 3 days a week
  • Limit amount of time participating in sedentary behavior (sitting down, watching tv, etc.).
  • Limit intake of high-calorie, processed, and fast-foods
  • Eat at least 2 ½ cups on fruits and vegetables per day
  • Choose whole grains over refined products

Before making any lifestyle changes that may impact treatment, please consult with your doctor or primary care provider.