Is Obesity Linked to Cancer?

Obesity has been shown to interfere with immunity, and scientific studies on mice show that it also stimulates inflammation in the body. The animals showed marked inflammation and inflammation-fighting blood cells, which were less effective in killing cancer cells. Obesity probably increases cancer risk in some people by altering their immune system. While it is not known if losing the weight can reverse these changes, reduced inflammation is a preventative measure in combating disease.

In the United States and Europe, it is estimated that up to one half of cancer cases may be attributable to obesity. Prostate cancer, for instance, the most prevalent cancer in American men, is more common in obese males than in males with a healthy body mass index (BMI). It also is more likely to be associated with a more aggressive type of prostate cancer.

How does this happen? In adipose (fat) tissue, in obese individuals, there is a marked increase in inflammatory cells (macrophages). These cells produce substances called pro-inflammatory molecules. Seen in obese children and adults, these pro-inflammatory molecules wreak havoc in the body and release other harmful chemicals, such as reactive oxygen species (ROS). They can also damage DNA-RNA and proteins. Proteins, the chemicals that make up cell and organ structure, perform biological activities from digestion to fighting disease. Damaged proteins negatively affect the body’s disease-fighting capabilities.

Inflammation: Friend or Foe?

Inflammation is a normal process in the body. When confined to a site of injury, it is a very beneficial adaptive response. But when inflammation is generalized and unchecked, it can cause diseases and abnormal states in many parts of the body. Many diseases are at least partly due to unchecked inflammation. The problem is that combating inflammation with drugs may be harmful as well. Obesity is just one of the causes of inflammation. Other causes include infection, injury and stress.

Inflammation can target many organs including the brain, muscles and skin. Irritable bowel syndrome, for example, is related to small areas of inflammation in the bowel. Some of the disease states in addition to cancers that are inflammation related include coronary artery disease, asthma, diabetes and several forms of arthritis (autoimmune disease). Chronic inflammation is also thought to be one of the causes of Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes, fibromyalgia and more. Some doctors recommend taking one anti-inflammatory ibuprofen per day to reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s.

Minimize Your Risk

So is obesity linked to cancer? The simple answer is yes, and research suggests that the link is called inflammation. The good news is that you can take precautionary measures to minimize your risk. Altering your diet to embrace anti-inflammatory principles will help curb obesity and reduce overall body inflammation. In turn, this small change will support the body’s efforts to prevent and combat illness.