The Concerning Cancer-Obesity Link
by David Dunaief
Feb 10, 2021 | 6200 views | 0 0 comments | 835 835 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. David Dunaief is located in Downtown Brooklyn and focuses on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management.
Dr. David Dunaief is located in Downtown Brooklyn and focuses on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management.
Obesity, while a disease in and of itself, is also associated with — and is potentially a significant contributor to — over 180 chronic diseases. While we tend to focus discussions of obesity around cardiovascular disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes, obesity may also be a strong contributor to cancer risk. Let’s look at the evidence.

Watch out for cancer

One of the more challenging diseases to treat is cancer. What are the risk factors? Beyond family and personal history, obesity seems to be important. In fact, obesity may be a direct contributor to around four percent of cancers in men and ten percent in women.

Of particular concern in the U.S. are high incidences of colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer and postmenopausal breast cancer attributed to excessive weight. In addition, there is about a 50 percent increased risk of death associated with cancer patients who are obese compared to those with a normal body mass index (BMI).

Why might this be the case? Fat is far from an inert or static substance. Fat contains adipokines, cell-signaling (communicating) proteins that ultimately may release inflammatory factors in those who have excessive fat. Inflammation increases the risk of tumor development and growth.

Obesity and breast cancer

According to an analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative, those who were obese had increased risks of invasive breast cancer and of death once the diagnosis was made. The severity of the breast cancer and its complications were directly related to the severity of the obesity.

There was a 58 percent increased risk of advanced breast cancer in those with a BMI of greater than 35 kg/m2 versus those with normal BMI of less than 25 kg/m2. And this obese group also had a strong association with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer.

What can we do?

There is a potentially simple step that obese cancer patients may be able to take, the addition of vitamin D to weight loss. In a study in older overweight women, those who lost weight and received vitamin D supplementation were more likely to reduce inflammatory factor IL-6 than those who had weight loss without supplementation.

This was only the case if the women were vitamin D insufficient. Their blood levels had to be between 10 and 32 ng/mL to receive supplements.

Interestingly, it has been suggested that overweight patients are more likely to have low levels of vitamin D, because it gets sequestered in the fat cells, reducing its bioavailability. Weight loss helps reduce inflammation, but the authors also surmise that it may also help release sequestered vitamin D.

All of the study participants were placed on lifestyle modifications involving diet and exercise. The treatment group received 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Those who received vitamin D3 and lost 5 to 10 percent of body weight reduced their inflammation more than those in the vitamin D group who did not lose weight.

Lifestyle modifications for weight loss

In an ode to lifestyle modifications, a study of type 2 diabetes patients showed that diet helped reduce weight, while exercise helped maintain weight loss for five years. In this trial, 53 percent of patients who had initially lost 23 pounds, or nine percent of body weight, over 12 weeks and maintained it over one year were able to continue to maintain this weight loss and preserve muscle mass through diet and exercise over five years.

We know that obesity is overwhelming. It’s difficult to lose weight and even harder to reach a normal weight; however, the benefits far outweigh the challenges of remaining obese. Lifestyle modifications are a must that should be discussed with your doctor.
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