Obesity And Cancer

Obesity And Cancer

Dr Cesar Lara

Obesity, the new smoking

Cancer is a terminal disease caused by inhibition of cell growth. It impairs the normal process of cell growth, transformation and even death (apoptosis).  Cancer invades cells, tissues, blood vessels and molecules, spread into them and destroys them. Cancerous cells have been linked to malignant tumors which are quite life threatening.

Interestingly but quite disturbing, beyond the widely known causatives of cancer (exposures to carcinogens) which could be environmentally induced (radon and UV radiation exposure); biologically enhanced (genetics); occupationally facilitated (exposures to radioactive material) or lifestyle related (smoking, the most popular).

Obesity is associated with increasing the risk of having cancer and it is fast replacing smoking. Most people know smoking to be a deadly cause of cancer but in recent time, there have been a decrease in smoking rate (obviously because of the fear of having cancer) and an increase in the obesity rate. According to the new American Cancer Society report, about twenty eight thousand (28,000) obese men and seventy-two thousand (72,000) obese women have been diagnoses with cancer in the U.S. Also, out of the 544,000 cancer diagnoses globally, 3.9 percent have been caused by obesity.

At this point, it is pertinent to point out that being obese does not mean you have cancer; it only increases your chances of contracting cancer (the probability is kinda high).

Now, intimating everyone on the connection between obesity and cancer is inevitable especially at this time that obesity is on a fast rise. Nevertheless, how obesity causes cancer has not been properly documented as the connection between them is still being explored by scientist. However, some probable ways through which obesity can be linked to the ‘killer cells’ have been discovered. This article will attempt to point out some of these dimensions.

How obesity causes cancer

The probable ways through which obesity induces cancer are succinctly explained in the succeeding headings;

  • Hormonal increase

Excess fat in the body leads to increase in hormone levels. An increase in such hormone like insulin and Insulin growth factor for instance has been linked with cancer. Of course, these hormones instruct the body cells to split on a sporadic rate.  In the process, cancer cells are birth. Once cancerous cells are produced, the normal hormonal activity that regulates cell growth is hindered. As such, the cells defying apoptosis (cell death) continue to split until a tumor is induced. Gradually, the body immune defence system is rendered powerless and death becomes imminent. Also, the intake of excessive sugar especially in high carbohydrate diet can increase insulin level and in turn, cause cancer.

  • Visceral fats

This body fat is stored around the abdominal cavity where it envelopes several critical body organs such as, the pancreas, the liver and the intestines. Usually, when this body fat is excessively accumulated by the body, it poses serious health risk to the body.  According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, visceral fat is a metabolic organ that produces the estrogen hormones which is linked to a higher incidence of breast and some other forms of cancer.

Furthermore, these fats impacts on insulin level (it drives it higher) through protein secretion which stimulates cell growth, consequently, increasing the risk of contracting cancer.

  • Impacts on immune-surveillance Natural killer Cells

Normally, the body has its defence system known at the immune system. This is an army of white blood cells charged with the defence of the body against harmful bacteria and pathogens. But when excess fats storm a person’s body, the functioning of these cells becomes inhibited and compromised.

According to a joint recent study by researchers from the Harvard medical school; trinity college of Dublin, UK; and the Brigham Women’s Hospital published in the Journal of Nature Immunology, the effect of obesity on the natural killer cells is quite profound.

Their study found out that in obese people, the natural killers cells are clogged around by fat such that they are rendered powerless to perform their defence function. Cancerous cells in these fats churn down the powers of the immune system.

Cancer caused by obesity

In recent times, obese people have been identified with the increased risk of contracting esophageal cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer (among post-menopausal women), prostate cancer, endometrium cancer and gall bladder cancer

  • Breast cancer as it relates to obesity is prevalent in obese women who have passed the stage of menopause. The production of estrogen by fat tissues after menopause becomes the main hormone source. As such, where excess fat produces excess estrogen, the risk of breast cancer becomes high.
  • Colorectal cancer affects the bowels (the colon and the rectum). It is caused by having excess belly fats (that is, a bigger waist line).
  • Endometrial cancer affects women uterus especially after menopause. It is induced by excess estrogen levels caused by fat tissues which changes a hormone called androgen into estrogen, hereby, increasing the risk of having cancer. Endometrial cancer has been found common in many obese women. It is also twice common in overweight women when compared to women who have health weight.
  • Pancreatic and liver cancer is caused by excessive visceral fats. These fats impair on the liver cells and pancreas cell, impacting upon their normal regulated functioning.
  • Prostate cancer is also induced by altered level of serum in hormones such as testosterone, insulin, leptin and oestrogen.
  • Gall bladder cancer is associated with the gall bladder which is a small organ beside the liver that produces bile which aids digestion. Excess fat in the body causes gall stone, consequently, increasing the risk of having cancer of the gall bladder.

At this juncture, it must also be established that the recurrence of cancer is highly associated with obese persons than those with normal weights. More so, in obese patients, there exist cases of unwanted and more severe side effects arising from the treatment of cancer. For instance, there is the risk of treatment related lymphedema in obese breast cancer survivors and even death from myeloma for people with high level of obesity.

How to escape this

Basically, one of the keys to avoiding cancer risk is to avoid gaining weight in the first instance. You can achieve this by being conscious of what you eat and through regular exercise. A mostly organic/non-GMO plant base nutrition with some animal protein like fish, chicken, eggs, grass fed beef and healthy fats is key.

Although, it is undeniable that it is a challenge to attain and maintain a healthy weight, nevertheless, there are compelling reasons to strive to do so. We must know that improving our nutrition enhances the ability of our body to heal itself. It also helps us to improve our blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, hence, decreasing the risk for diabetes and heart disease. Most importantly, improving our nutrition helps us to decrease the likelihood of developing cancer.

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  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323654.php
  2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41590-018-0251-7
  3. https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/prevention-and-healthy-living/obesity-weight-and-cancer-risk
  4. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/obesity-weight-and-cancer/does-obesity-cause-cancer
  5. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/obesity-weight-and-cancer/does-obesity-cause-cancer
  6. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/155598.php
  7. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/endometrial-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3179687/


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