Obesity has already been linked to rising rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and knee replacements. Now, new research suggests cancer can be added to that list, and the rate of obesity-related cancers is certain to keep climbing among those aged 25 to 49, researchers report.
“The fact that increases were mostly in obesity-related cancers is due to the obesity epidemic, and we would expect that the incidence would increase as this younger population ages,” said lead researcher Dr. Ahmedin Jemal. He is scientific vice president for surveillance and health services research at the American Cancer Society.
In fact, these cancers are rising faster among younger adults than older folks, and that could stall or reverse years of progress in reducing cancer deaths, the study authors said.
To try to curb the trend of rising cancers among the obese, Jemal thinks that primary care doctors need to screen all their patients for obesity. Family doctors also need to counsel patients to lose weight.
Although screening for most of these cancers isn’t available or useful for younger patients, colon cancer is an exception, Jemal said.
Last year, the American Cancer Society lowered the age to start colon cancer screening for people at average risk from 50 to 45.
Communities, too, need to take actions to promote healthy lifestyles, Jemal suggested. These can include mandating calorie counts on prepared foods and restaurant meals, and restricting sales of sugar-sweetened drinks.
In addition, communities can provide more opportunities for people to exercise by creating bike and walking paths.
According to the study, the cancer incidence increases were particularly severe in six of the 12 obesity-related cancers.
These include cancers of the colon, uterine, gallbladder, kidney and pancreas, and multiple myeloma — a bone marrow cancer.
Jemal’s team looked at 18 other types of cancer, but only two showed a similar increase, while eight cancers related to smoking showed a drop, and the rest remained stable.