Cancer and body weight, what’s the link?
Excess body fat (especially fat around the waist and vital organs) can increase the release of harmful chemicals and hormones into the body. It may also lead to inflammation. This environment makes it more likely for cells to divide abnormally, which increases the risk of developing cancer cells.
There’s strong evidence that having more body fat increases the risk of 13 cancers, including cancers of the bowel, breast (post-menopausal), uterus/ endometrium and oesophagus. It is estimated that carrying extra weight was linked to approximately 3.4 per cent of cancers in Australia in 2010.
However, not everyone with a high body weight is unhealthy, and not everyone with lower body weight is healthy. Eating well and being physically active are behaviours that will reduce cancer risk, regardless of a person’s body weight.
To give you an idea about how your body weight might affect your cancer risk, you can use a BMI calculator or measure your waist. These measures do not specifically measure body fat, but can help you understand how this risk factor might affect you. To get a more in-depth health picture, make time to speak to your GP or other registered health professionals.
Reduce your risk
Research shows that long term weight-loss is challenging, and we know that many people have had a lot of experience losing weight and regaining it. We recommend focussing on healthy habits that will reduce cancer risk. Some of these habits (like eating well and moving more) can help you avoid weight gain, maintain a healthy weight or lose weight. It’s important to remember that they have benefits, even if they don’t lead to weight change.
If you have a cancer diagnosis
If you have a cancer diagnosis, you may have additional concerns or challenges related to your nutrition, physical activity or body weight. Cancer Council WA has a number of resources and programs that can help. You can find them here, or call Cancer Council WA’s 13 11 20 Information and Support Service.
Links to Cancer Council WA publications and organisations working in this space: