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Obesity And Cancer: Expert Explains The Alarming Link

Numerous studies have confirmed that an elevated BMI is a known risk factor for various chronic diseases and mortality.

Obesity And Cancer: Expert Explains The Alarming Link

Unhealthy body weight puts you at a higher risk of several diseases

Obesity has become a global epidemic, reaching alarming proportions in recent years. Not only does excess body mass index (BMI≥25kg/m2) have detrimental effects on overall health, but it is also strongly associated with an increased susceptibility to a variety of diseases. Among these, the link between obesity and cancer has been well-established, with continuous updates from scientific literature reinforcing the concerning association.

Numerous studies have confirmed that an elevated BMI is a known risk factor for various chronic diseases and mortality. However, it is the correlation between excess BMI and specific types of cancer that has raised significant concern. Esophageal (adenocarcinoma), colon, rectal, kidney, pancreas, gallbladder (in females), post-menopausal breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer are among the diseases strongly associated with obesity.

While diet has been shown to directly promote tumor growth, the key connection between obesity and these cancers lies in increased chronic inflammation and alterations in immune cell populations. Obesity, characterized by nutrient abundance, still holds many mysteries regarding the adaptation and interaction of cancer cells and immune cells in this altered nutritional environment.

A large-scale global study conducted in 2012 shed light on the magnitude of the issue. It revealed that approximately 3.6% of all cancers (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), or 13% of all obesity-related cancers, could be attributed to excess BMI in adults. This translated into an estimated 481,000 new cancer cases in men and women in 2012 alone, potentially caused by excess BMI. Notably, postmenopausal breast, corpus uteri, and colon cancer accounted for 73% of the total attributable cases in females, while kidney and colon cancer contributed to 66% of all attributable cases in males.

It is concerning that 64% of all global cancer cases related to excess BMI were predominantly found in the Northern American and European regions, with South East Asia contributing a mere 2%. Recent statistics indicate that 35% of the adult population aged 20 and above is overweight (BMI ≥25kg/m2), with 12% classified as obese (BMI ≥30 kg/m2). While the current prevalence of excess BMI stands at around 10% in many Asian and African countries, Pacific Nations such as Cook Island and Nauru report the highest prevalence, surpassing 90%, followed closely by other developed countries. In India, the prevalence of obesity in adults is currently estimated at around 5%, projected to triple by 2040. Disturbingly, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in India is rising faster than the global average.

If we consider the relationship between excess BMI and cancer to be cause and effect, the current pattern of population weight gain presents a grim outlook. Unless urgent action is taken to combat the obesity epidemic, the burden of cancer is likely to increase significantly in the future. However, the growing understanding of the effects of obesity and diet on the tumor microenvironment provides hope for developing new targets and approaches to address the incidence, progression, and treatment of these obesity-exacerbated cancers.

In conclusion, the rise of obesity to epidemic proportions poses a grave threat to public health. The strong association between excess BMI and an increased susceptibility to various diseases, particularly cancer, demands immediate attention. Governments, healthcare professionals, and individuals must join forces to tackle this pressing issue. Effective interventions, including public awareness campaigns, improved access to nutritious foods, and increased opportunities for physical activity, are crucial in curbing the obesity epidemic. By prioritizing prevention and adopting healthier lifestyles, we can potentially reverse the trajectory of this alarming trend and pave the way for a healthier future.

(Dr Debashish Chaudhary, Principal Consultant, Surgical Oncology, Max Hospital Gurugram)

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