The obesity epidemic continues to grow, with more than one-third of American adults considered obese. Obesity increases the risk of a number of dangerous medical conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, and stroke. It may also follow cancer survivors, a team of researchers from Columbia University’s School of Public Health have found.

Their study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reveals obesity is more prevalent among patients with a history of cancer, especially certain types. In order to uncover the link between cancer and obesity, researchers first examined 538,969 adults between the ages of 18 and 85, of which 32,447 were cancer survivors. The data overwhelmingly indicated that breast and colon cancer survivors were the most likely to end up obese within 10 years of their diagnosis.

After researchers analyzed the data that was collected during annual National Health Interview Surveys between the years 1997 and 2014, they found obesity rates increase from 22 percent to 32 percent in cancer survivors and from 21 percent to 29 percent in adults without a history of cancer. In addition, cancer survivors who were either women or African American were the standout populations at the highest risk for developing obesity.

Cancer Obesity The relationship between cancer and obesity continues to grow, as researchers discover survivors are at greater risk for weight gain. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

"Our study identified characteristics of cancer survivors at the highest risk of obesity, which are important patient populations in which care providers should focus their efforts," said the study’s lead author Dr. Heather Greenlee, assistant professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University, in a statement. "While our findings can be partially explained by the growing population of patients with breast and colorectal cancer, we identified additional populations of cancer survivors at risk of obesity not as well understood and which require further study."

According to the National Cancer Institute, aside from breast and colon cancer, previous research has also linked obesity to increasing the risk for esophagus, pancreas, endometrium, kidney, thyroid, and gallbladder cancer. Fat tissue produces higher levels of estrogen, which increase the risk of breast, endometrial, and other types of cancer and obese people frequently have inflammation - another factor that increases cancer risk.

A lot of research has already been done of how obesity increases cancer risk, however this is the first study to find a link between becoming obese after surviving cancer. Researchers plan on moving forward with more in-depth investigation in order to unravel the linkages between cancer and obesity.  

Greenlee concluded: "These results suggest that obesity is a growing public health burden for cancer survivors, which requires targeted interventions including weight management efforts to stave off the increasing obesity trends we are seeing in cancer survivors."

Learn more about how obese women are 40 percent more likely to develop a tumor . Read here.

Source: Greenlee H, Shi Z, Sardo Molmenti CL, Rundle A, and Tsai WY. Trends in Obesity Prevalence in Adults With A History of Cancer: Results From the US National Health Interview Survey, 1997 to 2014. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2016.