While obesity has been a constant problem in the U.S., and a growing one in other parts of the world, researchers are still realizing the true scope of the epidemic and its consequences. And a recent report from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund is now adding ovarian cancer to the long list of other cancers obese people risk developing.
Obesity, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as having a body mass index (BMI) over 30 (for someone 5-foot-9, a weight of 203 lbs. or more). More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Worldwide, 35 percent of adults over 20 are overweight, with 11 percent obese. It’s a worldwide problem, and the fifth leading risk for global deaths. Being obese puts a person at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and various cancers, including those of the prostate, esophagus, and breasts.
“We know that obesity affects hormones known to affect the cancer process,” said report author Dr. Elisa Bandera, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, according to HealthDay. “It also leads to insulin resistance and [high levels of insulin], as well as a chronic systemic inflammation. Inflammation, in particular, has been a major factor implicated in ovarian cancer development and is also associated with poorer survival.”
Hence, the basis for the researchers’ study. Bandera and colleagues reviewed 25 studies comprising of over four million women, 16,000 of whom had ovarian cancer. Based on this data, they determined that for every five-point increase in BMI, a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer increased by six percent. Although the risk does increase, it would take quite a lot of weight-gain to go from an 18.5 (125 lbs. for a person 5-foot-9) to a 30.
The report also found weaker evidence linking breastfeeding to a reduction in ovarian cancer, however, the researchers called the evidence “limited” and “suggestive,” USA Today reported.
Ovarian cancer affects an estimated three percent of women, however, it kills more of them than any other cancer, causing about 14,000 deaths in 2013. It’s a sneaky cancer that’s hard to detect in its early stages, which are characterized by mild symptoms or none at all. By the time many women find out they have it, it’s already in advanced stages.
By adopting a healthier lifestyle, women who are overweight or obese can reduce their already low risk — the report’s researchers put overall risk at 1.4 percent — of the deadly cancer. A lifestyle with a balanced diet and exercise (the CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week) can help anyone lose weight, and reduce their risk of many diseases. “While this is no magic bullet,” the American Cancer Society’s Alpa Patel told USA Today, “any way to reduce the risk of this deadly cancer, especially something like keeping a healthy weight, which has a role in overall cancer prevention, is worth acting on.”