By Dr. Aparna Govil Bhasker
Obesity has emerged as one of the fastest growing pandemics in the world. Obesity adversely affects every part of the human body from head to toe. In addition to other conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cholesterol issues, joint pains, PCOS, infertility etc., obesity is also closely related to many types of cancers. In fact, studies suggest that soon, “obesity” may take over “smoking” as one of the most common preventable causes for cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has established that increasing weight and body mass index (BMI) are associated with a higher risk of at least 13 types of cancers. There is strong evidence to suggest that obesity is associated with cancers of the digestive tract in both women and men and hormone sensitive organs like breast and uterus in women. These are listed as under:
1. Endometrial cancer of the uterus
2. Post-menopausal breast cancer
3. Ovarian cancer
4. Oesophageal cancer (Cancer of the food-pipe)
5. Gastric/stomach cancer
6. Colo-rectal cancer (Cancer of the large intestine)
7. Pancreatic cancer
8. Liver cancer
9. Gall bladder cancer
10. Kidney cancer
12. Multiple myeloma
13. Thyroid cancer
Know the connection between obesity and cancer
There is convincing evidence available to prove that cancer and obesity are inter-linked. Sedentary behaviour, reduced physical activity and weight gain play an important role in the genesis of cancer and must be looked at carefully when planning prevention strategies for future. Exact biological pathways about how obesity and cancer are linked have not been fully elucidated as yet. However, increased weight and BMI lead to an increased obesity associated chronic low-grade inflammation, increased insulin resistance, increase in the risk of other metabolic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. It also leads to increased secretions of endogenous sex hormones which can influence the incidence of breast, uterine and ovarian cancers. Deposition of fatty tissue in organs like heart, liver, muscle and pancreas is also of concern as that interferes with their normal functions and may increase the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer.
This is how one can keep obesity and cancer at bay
Given this strong association between obesity and cancer, it may be deduced that weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight may go a long way in decreasing the risk of developing certain cancers. Decreasing sedentary behaviour and increasing physical activity can be of help in prevention of weight gain. Studies have shown a significant reduction in cancer risk in people who experienced weight loss over a period of time. A healthy diet devoid of junk food, smoked food, deep fried food, foods high in sugars etc must be followed. It is also recommended to have a diet high in fibre content. One must focus on having a balanced diet. One must also indulge in moderate physical activity for 40 to 45 minutes at least for 5 days every week.
It is now also proven that obesity is a disease and some people may gain weight despite their best efforts at diet and exercise. Obesity is not self-inflicted and is driven by multiple genetic, epigenetic and neuro-hormonal pathways in the human body. If a person is already living with obesity, then it must be treated as per the severity. Treatment options for grade 1 and 2 obesity include drug therapy, endoscopic therapies like intra-gastric balloon insertion or endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty etc. In severe cases bariatric surgery may be considered. Studies have shown that patients with obesity who underwent bariatric surgery had a significantly reduced risk of combined cancers when compared with those who could not lose weight.
In conclusion, the rates of obesity are increasing across the world and that includes developing countries like ours. This is driving an immense increase in the incidence of non-communicable diseases including cancer. Not only does it lead to an increased healthcare burden on the country but carries a huge personal cost in terms of individual suffering. It is important to actively work on the aspect of prevention of weight gain which will go a long way to prevent multiple other diseases including cancer. At the same time, it is also important to understand that obesity is not always preventable and we need to help those who are already living with this condition through the available treatment options.
(The author is a Consultant Bariatric and Laparoscopic Surgeon, Saifee, Namaha, Apollo Spectra and Currae Specialty Hospitals. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)