Dr Sally Norton, NHS consultant, weight loss surgeon and founder of www.vavista.com provides the facts
With two thirds of UK adults now overweight, and a fifth classified as obese, we are seeing a huge increase in associated diseases – such as type 2 diabetes – and as recent studies have shown, a number of certain cancers.
A study, published in the Lancet medical journal, looked at over five million people to establish the links between obesity and cancer – and the results were stark. It seems that over 12,000 new cancers each year in the UK are associated with being overweight and that your risk goes up in line with your weight. In fact, for every five point increase in your BMI, you could be 62% more likely to get cancer of the uterus and 25% more likely to get kidney cancer. Scary statistics and ones many of us don’t want to face, however unlike hereditary cancer risks, this is one factor that we can tackle to reduce our cancer risks.
Did you know:
Oesophageal adenocarcinoma (gullet cancer) is on the rise, probably due to the increase in acid reflux that we see in association with obesity. Losing weight can help your symptoms of indigestion – and should therefore reduce your risk of developing cancer later.
Fat is not just sitting there doing nothing. It produces hormones – one of which is oestrogen. After the menopause, when the ovaries have stopped producing hormones, fat is the main source of oestrogen. This means post menopausal women who are overweight, are at greater risk of tumours that are stimulated by oestrogen. This includes some breast cancers, endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the womb) and perhaps ovarian cancer. As many as 41% of womb cancers may be attributable to obesity.
Excess fat not only increases risks of developing some breast cancers, but it can also make treatment less effective. In addition, a recent study (on mice admittedly) showed that reducing food intake may reduce the risk of breast cancer spread, prompting an ongoing trial of nutritional advice and weight loss in women undergoing breast cancer treatment.
Colon cancer is definitely more common in people, particularly men, who are obese. It is more likely in people with a higher waist to hip ratio – the classic male beer belly – and may be associated with increased insulin levels – something seen in type 2 diabetes. Around 10% of colon cancers are linked to obesity.
Fatty Liver Disease is on the increase thanks to the rise in obesity. It is also seen in type 2 diabetes (often this goes hand in hand with obesity) and is more common in people who carry most of their fat around their middle rather than their bottom and thighs – so called apples rather than pears! Fatty liver can, in some cases, proceed to cirrhosis, which is a risk factor for liver cancer.
Obesity is also a risk factor for pancreas cancer, gallbladder cancer, thyroid cancer and kidney cancer, too.
While it is very difficult to prove that losing weight will reduce an individual’s risk of cancer, studies on groups who have lost a lot of weight with weight loss surgery, show convincingly that there is a reduction in the number of cancers seen.
So, what can we do?
Well, if you are overweight or obese (or even if you are not), be vigilant for signs that may suggest cancer in any of these areas. That means letting your GP know if you notice any of the following symptoms:
Worsening acid reflux or indigestion, or the sensation of food sticking when you swallow.
A lump in your breast – check your breasts regularly and attend any mammograms that are booked for you.
Unusual bleeding between periods or after you thought your periods had stopped.
Bleeding when you pass urine or open your bowels – or a change in your bowel habit such as constipation.
A lump in your neck – or a change in your voice or breathing.
Pain in your tummy, unexplained weight loss or anything else that is unusual for you.
Of course, most of these are more likely to be due to another, less worrying cause, however it’s well worth checking and your GP will be able to reassure you or arrange appropriate tests if needed.
The next thing to do is to tackle your weight in a sensible way. Don’t be tempted by the latest ‘quick fix’ as studies have shown that conventional dieting just doesn’t work long term – 85% of dieters regain all the weight they have lost, and more, by a year. Instead, you need to focus on making small, but sustainable changes to your eating behaviour and habits in general to ensure slow, steady weight loss, that stays off.
So, with a few small and easy to achieve changes to our lives and eating behaviour we can do something to fight back against the big ’C’ – and be slimmer and healthier in many other ways, too. It’s not about ‘scaremongering’ it’s about being informed about the impact our weight has on our future health and taking responsibility for our own wellbeing. By changing our focus from an ‘aesthetic’ goal to a ‘health’ one, weight loss has been proven to be more successful and more rewarding.