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Does Obesity Increase Your Cancer Risk?

overweight person with thyroid cancer

Obesity has been cited as the cause of many chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and sleep apnea. Another condition obesity can cause in cancer.

The cause of cancer is complex and differs for each person. Risk factors can include gender, age, genetics and environmental risks, but one risk is directly attributed to the way we lead our lives – lifestyle. Lifestyle risks for cancer may include smoking and tobacco use, alcohol abuse and obesity.

Specifically, obesity is associated with the following cancer types (and possibly others):

  • Esophagus
  • Pancreas
  • Colon and rectum
  • Breast (after menopause)
  • Endometrium (lining of the uterus)
  • Kidney
  • Thyroid
  • Gallbladder

Why is obesity a risk factor for cancer?

There are several reasons researchers think obesity may contribute to cancer risk:

  • Fat tissue produces excess amounts of estrogen, high levels of which have been associated with the risk of breast, endometrial and some other cancers.
  • Obese people often have increased levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 in their blood, which may promote the development of certain tumors.
  • Fat cells produce hormones, called adipokines that may stimulate or inhibit cell growth.
  • Fat cells may also have direct and indirect effects on other tumor growth regulators
  • Obese people often have chronic low-level, or “subacute,” inflammation, which has been associated with increased cancer risk.

How to decrease your risk for cancer

While some risk factors for cancer cannot be changed (gender, age) a risk factor like obesity can be changed through lifestyle modifications, diet and exercise.

If you’ve struggled to lose weight in the past, you may want to seek help through the Penn Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Program. Learn if bariatric surgery is right for you by attending a free information session about the Penn Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Program.

Learn more about weight-loss surgery at Penn at this free session and meet physicians and team members from the Penn Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Program.

Information was adapted from

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Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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