A problem shared by mother-of-four and GP Clare Bailey: Will losing weight really stop me getting cancer?
- An anonymous woman says she has heard that carrying excess weight increases your risk of getting cancer
- At the age of 52 she is concerned for her health as her mother died from breast cancer in her early 60s
- She asks Clare Bailey if losing weight will protect her from getting cancer
Q My mother died of breast cancer in her early 60s. I’ve heard that carrying excess weight increases your risk of getting cancer. Now 52, I’m developing a bit of a middleaged spread myself — much like my mum who was overweight from her 40s.
I know weight loss has wellknown benefits for the heart and knees plus it can even reverse diabetes (at my health check the only thing flagged up was my weight). But if I do manage to lose a few pounds, could this shield me from cancer too?
A It’s great that you’re thinking about your health and how to avoid the chronic illnesses which come with carrying too much weight. But as you say in your letter, you are concerned about your increased risk of getting cancer and wondering if slimming can protect you.
According to Cancer Research UK, being significantly overweight (ie with a BMI of 30 and over) is the leading cause of cancer in the UK, after smoking. It’s responsible for at least 18,000 cancers every year in the UK.
An anonymous woman says she has heard that carrying excess weight increases your risk of getting cancer. At the age of 52 she is concerned for her health as her mother died from breast cancer in her early 60s
Fat, particularly round the tummy, sends out signals to the rest of the body, helping to control all sorts of bodily processes including your metabolism and your reproductive cycle. It also seems to encourage the growth of cancers, particularly of the breast, womb, bowel, liver and prostate.
Firstly, there’s the impact of excess body fat on your oestrogen levels. Normally these start to decline after the menopause, but when women are very overweight their fat cells start cranking out excess oestrogen. This may sound like a good thing, but if you have higher levels of the hormone it encourages more cell growth, and in turn can encourage more cancer cells.
Being significantly overweight also makes your body overproduce another hormone, insulin, which helps to control your blood sugars. This also seems to promote the growth of cancer cells.
Finally, excess fat leads to the release of proteins called cytokines, which then cause chronic inflammation. We know that chronic inflammation is behind many of the conditions we associate with ageing, including heart disease and dementia, as well as cancer.
Claire Bailey (pictured) explains that carrying too much weight can increase you risk of breast cancer and other types of cancers and illnesses
So if carrying too much weight can increase your risk of breast cancer, does losing weight make much difference? Yes it does.
Research from the Vascular and Thoracic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in the U.S. has demonstrated the benefit weight-loss surgery can have when it comes to reducing cancer risk.
Researchers followed 30,000 adults with obesity for a decade. Those who underwent weightloss surgery had a 32 per cent lower risk of developing cancer and an astonishing 48 per cent lower risk of dying from the disease, compared with a similar group who did not have the surgery. The more weight they lost, the more their cancer risk fell.
You don’t have to do something as drastic as having surgery. But losing 5-10 per cent of your body weight can make a big difference to breast cancer risk.
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