Obesity Plays a Role in Nearly Half of US Cancer Cases

During a time when cancer rates are declining overall, obesity-linked disease is increasing.

A new Vital Signs report from the CDC indicates that overweight and obesity are linked to an increased risk of 13 common types of cancers that account for 40% of cases diagnosed in 2014.

Although the rate of cancer diagnosis has slowed since the 1990s, the boom of overweight- and obesity-related cancers are hindering further progress, according to the CDC.

In 2014, approximately 630,000 patients were diagnosed with obesity-related cancers, with two-thirds occurring in Americans aged 50 to 74 years. Specifically, between 2005 and 2014, the prevalence of these cancers—except for colorectal cancer—increased 7%, while other cancers declined, according to the report.

“A majority of American adults weigh more than recommended — and being overweight or obese puts people at higher risk for a number of cancers – so these findings are a cause for concern,” said CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, MD. “By getting to and keeping a healthy weight, we all can play a role in cancer prevention.”

Although two-thirds of Americans were overweight or obese in 2013 to 2014, many are not aware that it can increase the risk of 13 cancers, including meningioma, multiple myeloma, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, and thyroid, postmenopausal breast, gallbladder, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, ovaries, uterus, and colorectal cancers.

The investigators found that 55% of cancers diagnosed in women and 24% diagnosed in men are linked to overweight and obesity, according to the study.

Non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites were observed to have a higher rate of these cancers compared with other racial and ethnic groups, the CDC reported. Additionally, black males and American Indian/Alaska Native males had a higher prevalence of these cancers than white males.

Although other weight-related cancers increased between 2005 and 2014, incidences of colorectal cancer decreased 23% due to screening, the authors said. During this time, the incidence of other cancers was reduced by 13%.

Despite an overall downward trend of cancer incidence, the authors discovered that cancers linked to weight—besides colorectal cancer—increased among adults younger than age 75, according to the study.

The CDC urges health care providers to advise patients on how maintaining a healthy weight is important for cancer patients. Those with obesity should be referred to intensive weight management programs to ensure that they are connected with the necessary resources. Families should also be able to access community services that help them have a healthier lifestyle, according to the CDC.

“As an oncologist, when people ask me if there’s a cure for cancer, I say, ‘Yes, good health is the best prescription for preventing chronic diseases, including cancer,’” said Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “What that means to healthcare providers like me is helping people to have the information they need to make healthy choices where they live, work, learn, and play.”