Obesity can increase the risk of certain cancers! An expert tells you more

While obesity has been associated with numerous diseases, did you know it can also increase the risk of developing cancer? Read on to understand the link between obesity and cancer.
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Understand the link between obesity and cancer. Image courtesy: Adobe stock
Dr Devavrat Arya Updated: 5 Sep 2023, 15:28 pm IST
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When we think of cancer, the deadly disease, the first image that comes to people’s minds is cigarettes, alcohol, pollution, tobacco, and other common causes. Rarely do people think that being overweight or obese increases the risk of several types of cancer. But the reality is that obesity can lead to certain types of cancer.

While it is common human knowledge that obesity leads to diabetes, heart disease and other major non-communicable diseases, significant studies have shown that being overweight also increases the chances of developing different types of cancer. Although more conclusive studies are needed on this, there is no doubt that obesity is a growing concern in our society today – all thanks to a sedentary lifestyle.

Obesity is one of the leading causes of cancer

Did you know that obesity contributes to 8 percent of all cancer cases, second only to tobacco use in preventable causes of cancer?

obesity and cancer
Being obese can increase your risk of developing cancre. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Studies have shown that being obese can increase the incidence of numerous types of cancer. Some of these include breast cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, kidney and liver cancer. In fact, several studies have found a link between being obese and cancer. A study by the American Cancer Society indicated that people’s risk of cancer typically rises as they age.

How does being obese cause cancer?

A study published in the Lancet Oncology in 2018 estimated that around 4.5 percent of all cancer cases in India were attributable to overweight and obesity.
Fat tissue also known as Adipose tissue produces high levels of estrogen, which has been associated with breast, ovarian, endometrial and certain other types of cancers. Secondly, it is well known that obesity means a higher body mass index (BMI). Increased BMI results can affect the natural process of insulin resistance – production of Insulin called Hyperinsulinemia and prolong the duration of the action of insulin-like growth Factor – 1 (IGF – 1). This can lead to colon, renal, prostate, and endometrial cancer.

According to a study published by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), breast, colorectal and uterine cancer are the three most common types of cancer among women, and incidentally all are linked to “obesity”. Also, those with obesity have high levels of inflammatory cytokines, which increases chronic inflammatory diseases including gallstones and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This leads to DNA damage and can cause cancer of the biliary tract and other cancers.

Fat does not sit in one place. It can become dysfunctional, resulting in inflammation, which increases the risk of developing cancer.

obesity and cancer
Leading a healthy lifestyle can reduce obesity and cancer risk. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock


With more people living a sedentary lifestyle, obesity cases are growing, thus increasing the risk of cancer. There are indirect factors that people are aware of but tend to overlook. Poor eating habits or an unhealthy diet take center stage when it comes to obesity. Untimely and unhealthy eating like processed food, and junk food becomes the order of the day. Being physically inactive only adds to the problem. One must include fruits and leafy green vegetables in their diet. Little do such people realise that “indirectly” they are “inviting” cancer – cancer of the digestive tract.

Cancer is also on the rise among younger people. What is even more alarming is that childhood obesity is on the rise – a phenomenon being passed on from their mothers who were obese while they were pregnant.

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About the Author

Dr Devavrat Arya has over 17 years of experience in the field of oncology. He specialises in cancer care, oncology, musculoskeletal oncology, medical oncology, thoracic oncology, head and neck oncology, breast cancer, molecular oncology, and cancer genetics. He is a Medical Oncologist at Max Hospital in Saket, New Delhi. ...Read More

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