November 2019

Why ‘Weight?’ Trim Your Cancer Risks Now

It’s a weighty question: Could those extra pounds add to your cancer risks? Scientists say yes.

Woman at counter in a kitchen with plate of food, writing in a food log

About two-thirds of the adults you know are overweight or obese. Not only are they at high risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and liver disease, but they also may be more likely to develop some cancers.

Your weight matters

Obesity is a risk factor for some cancers of the:

  • Colon and rectum

  • Breast

  • Esophagus

  • Uterus

  • Ovaries

  • Kidney

  • Liver

  • Pancreas

  • Prostate

  • Stomach

Endometrial cancer affects the lining of the uterus. According to the American Cancer Society, endometrial cancer is twice as common in overweight women and more than 3 times as common in obese women. And regardless of what the scale says, a larger waistline raises a person’s risk for colorectal cancer, particularly in men.

How extra pounds impact risk

Poor eating habits and low activity levels can elevate cancer risks. High blood sugar goes hand in hand with obesity. It may also raise the odds of developing some cancers. In addition, being overweight may affect hormone levels to spur growth of some cancers in men and women.

But there is good news. Losing weight may help protect women against breast cancer (after menopause) and men from aggressive types of prostate cancer. And there’s growing evidence that weight loss might reduce the risk for other cancers, too.

Lighten your load—and reduce your risks

Look at your waist measurement and body mass index (BMI) to find out whether your weight is healthy. BMI measures your weight in relation to your height. For help, try this BMI calculator or talk with your healthcare provider, who can also do other assessments to determine your health risks.

To manage your weight, and perhaps protect against cancer, follow these tips:

  • Write down what you eat. A food diary can help you track when you’re eating too much, so that you eat less.

  • Sit less. Start moving more. Try to increase your daily activities and block out at least 150 minutes each week for moderate-intensity activity, such as walking or biking.

  • Uncover what motivates you to be healthier. Is it a workout buddy? A new cookbook? Find ways to stick with healthier habits. 

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2019
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