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Cancer and obesity

Well-known risk factors for cancer include age, smoking, family history, exposure to radiation, as well as infection with certain viruses and bacteria. However, medical experts believe that obesity may be in some way related to around one-fourth of the major cancers diagnosed in America.

The National Cancer Institute found that people with morbid obesity (a body-mass index or BMI over 40) are more likely than healthy-weight people to develop a variety of cancers: esophageal, kidney, colon, breast, and uterus.  In fact, one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people living with morbid obesity were significantly more likely to die from their cancer than healthy-weight people.

By now, we are all familiar with the recommendations for healthy lifestyle choices, all of which also apply to minimizing the risk of cancer: eliminate excess weight, engage in daily physical activity, avoid junk food, reduce the amount of red meat and alcohol in the diet, eat more vegetables and fruit, and limit the amount of food with preservatives.

Bariatric surgery and cancer risk

Cancer and obesity do seem to be linked, but there is hope. One recent study showed that women who intentionally lost 20 or more pounds and were not currently overweight had cancer rates at the level of healthy women who never lost weight. Several clinical studies found that bariatric surgery reduced mortality in patients by 29% to 89% when compared to a group of people living with morbid obesity who had not had the surgery.