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Home  /  Integrative Cancer Care  /  Body  /  Whole Body Cancer Care and Cancer Prevention  /  Overweight, Obesity and Cancer

Overweight, Obesity and Cancer

By Jeannine Walston

Does obesity cause cancer? 

Over 36.5 percent of U.S. adults are obese¹, and obesity increases the likelihood of developing many forms of cancer. Studies have not shown that weight and obesity cause all cancers. However, research suggests that in some people with cancer, excessive extra weight may contribute to and cause cancer development and cancer growth. Obesity and cancer are strongly linked. Living with a healthy weight is an essential part of an integrative cancer care plan for both cancer treatment and cancer prevention.

What causes obesity?

Experts suggest that the chief causes of obesity are a sedentary lifestyle with physical inactivity and a poor diet. Exercise for Cancer and Movement provides physical activity to help control weight. Supporting your health and healing with your proper weight is not only about the numbers you see on the scale. The food you put in your mouth defines your wellness. Learn more in Cancer Diet.

What are some potential ways in which obesity increases cancer risk and cancer growth?

Research continues to assess this important question. Some possible ways in which obesity increases cancer risk and cancer growth include the following.

  • Increases inflammation in the body associated with cancer
  • Increases the body’s production of hormones, including insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which stimulate tumor development and cancer growth while inhibiting cancer cell death
  • Contributes to cancer growth by causing cells to divide more rapidly
  • Often involves a sedentary lifestyle with physical inactivity known to contribute to many health risk factors such as cancer
  • Often involves a poor diet known to contribute to many health risk factors such as cancer

How many people in the United States are overweight or obese today?

Rates of obesity have steadily increased over the past few decades in the United States.

According to the most recent data, adult obesity rates now exceed 35 percent in four states, 30 percent in 25 states and are above 20 percent in all states. Louisiana has the highest adult obesity rate at 36.2 percent and Colorado has the lowest at 20.2 percent. U.S. adult obesity rates decreased in four states (Minnesota, Montana, New York and Ohio), increased in two (Kansas and Kentucky) and remained stable in the rest, between 2014 and 2015. This marks the first time in the past decade that any states have experienced decreases — aside from a decline in Washington, D.C. in 2010.

Obesity 2015 8 25 17

Obesity CDC report intro 2014 634 100

Obesity CDC report states 2014 634 485

Obesity 2015 634


Obesity CDC 2012
Research published in 2012 by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides a report building on state-by-state data from the CDC to project obesity rates. In every state, that rate will reach at least 44 percent by 2030. In 13 states, that number would exceed 60 percent. Their findings also show that the weight increases will also add $66 billion in annual obesity-related medical costs over and above today’s $147 billion to $210 billion. Total U.S. healthcare spending is estimated at $2.7 trillion.

What are some other statistics about the relationship between obesity and cancer?

The Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines published in June of 2012 wrote the following.

“In the United States, obesity is a problem of epidemic proportions and is a well-established risk factor for some of the most common cancers. Overweight and obesity are clearly associated with an increased risk of developing many cancers, including cancers of the breast in postmenopausal women; colon and rectum; endometrium; and adenocarninoma of the esophagus, kidney, and pancreas. Obesity is also probably associated with an increased risk of cancer of the gallbladder, and may also be associated with an increased risk of cancers of the liver, cervix, and ovary, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and aggressive forms of prostate cancer. Thus, many cancer survivors are overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis. Increasing evidence indicates that being overweight increases the risk of recurrence and reduces the likelihood of disease-free and overall survival among those diagnosed with cancer.³”

The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research analyzed the relationship between obesity and cancer showing excess body weight related to many cancer types.

If you deal with overweight or obesity, choose to change your body and health. Learn more in Cancer Diet, Exercise for Cancer, Inflammation and Cancer, and other integrative solutions, including to create an integrative cancer care plan, team, and self-care strategies.

1. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Flegal KM. Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2011-2014. NCHS Data Brief. 2015 Nov;(219):1-8. PubMed PMID: 26633046.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, Overweight and Obesity, Data, Trends and Maps
3. Rock CL, Doyle C, Demark-Wahnefried W, Meyerhardt J, Courneya KS, Schwartz AL, Bandera EV, Hamilton KK, Grant B, McCullough M, Byers T, Gansler T. Nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012 Jul-Aug;62(4):243-74. doi: 10.3322/caac.21142. Epub 2012 Apr 26. Review. PubMed PMID: 22539238.