(Note: This article first published in The Huffington Post)
Does being overweight increase your risk of getting cancer? Does losing weight reduce that risk? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. In some cases, the risk is over 50 percent greater. I had no idea the link was so strong, and it turns out that more than 50 percent of Americans are not aware there is any link at all. I am so glad I solved my obesity problem 30 years ago. I knew it probably kept me from getting heart disease and diabetes but I was not aware of such a strong link to cancer.
In the winter 2016 issue of Your Weight Matters, the magazine of the Obesity Action Coalition, Taraneh Soleymani, M.D., teaches us that next to smoking, keeping one’s self at a healthy weight is the most important thing an individual can do to reduce the risk of cancer. If we didn’t have enough reasons to lose weight before, we now have probably the biggest reason ever, preventing cancer.
What kinds of cancers are linked to obesity, and how much greater is the risk?
Dr. Soleymani shocks us with the report by the American Institute for Cancer Research that states that 50 percent of colon and rectal cancers can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, balanced diet and physical activity. Half of these cancers are caused by the obesegenic lifestyle that we’ve adopted. Just as shocking, 38 percent of breast cancers, 69 percent of throat cancers, 24 percent of kidney cancers and 19 percent of pancreatic cancers are preventable through healthy weight management. If we are looking for the cure to cancer, here’s the preventive solution: lose the obesity.
Why does being overweight or obese make it easier to get cancer?
As it turns out, your excess fat is not just an inert mass of fuel you’ve stored. It is living active tissue that acts like an organ, manufacturing hormones (our body’s self-made “natural” drugs) that act on the rest of your body, in this case, making it more vulnerable to the generation and growth of cancer. Research reported by The Obesity Society, as well as Dr. Soleymani, points out that it produces chemicals that stimulate (cancer) cell growth, increase the overall inflammation in your body, which is associated with increased cancer risk, and produces excess amounts of estrogen, high levels of which have been associated with the risk of breast, endometrial, and some other cancers. Being obese is like having a factory in your body polluting you with cancer-causing chemicals every day. But get rid of the excess fat, problem solved.
What can we do to get rid of the increased risk of getting cancer?
Fortunately, there is no mystery to the solution. We need to lose the excess weight. And there is no mystery to that either. We need to develop a way of living so that we habitually take in fewer calories than we burn, so that we burn off the fat instead of storing it up. We need to learn new behavior, and instead of dieting, develop new habits of eating what we like in a way that makes us healthy. That’s done through behavior therapy. Believe me, it can be done.
William Anderson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in weight loss, eating disorders and addictions. He solved his own long-time weight problem, losing 140 pounds 30 years ago and has kept it off since. He is the author of The Anderson Method.