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Women and weight-related cancer

Obese women 40% more likely of getting weight-related cancer

In the UK it is estimated that 18,000 women develop cancer as a result of being overweight or obese each year

Obese women have around a 40 per cent greater risk of developing a weight-related cancer in their lifetime than women of a healthy weight, according to new figures released by Cancer Research UK. Obesity increases a woman’s risk of developing at least seven types of cancer including bowel, post-menopausal breast, gallbladder, womb, kidney, pancreatic and oesophageal cancer. The new statistics find that obese women have around a one in four risk of developing a cancer linked to weight in their lifetime.

“Losing weight isn’t easy, but you don’t have to join a gym and run miles every day or give up your favourite food forever. Just making small changes that you can maintain in the long term can have a real impact,” said Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK. “To get started try getting off the bus a stop earlier and cutting down on fatty and sugary foods. Losing weight takes time so gradually build on these to achieve a healthier lifestyle that you can maintain. And find out about local services, which can provide help and support to make lifestyle changes over the long term.

In a group of 1,000 obese women, 274 will be diagnosed with a bodyweight-linked cancer in their lifetime, compared to 194 women diagnosed in a group of 1,000 healthy weight women. Approximately a quarter of UK women are obese which puts them at a greater risk of cancer. There are different ways that obesity could increase the risk of cancer, and one possibility is that it is linked to a fat cell’s production of hormones, especially oestrogen. This hormone is thought to fuel the development of cancer.

“We know that our cancer risk depends on a combination of our genes, our environment and other aspects of our lives, many of which we can control – helping people understand how they can reduce their risk of developing cancer in the first place remains crucial in tackling the disease,” she added. “Lifestyle changes – like not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and cutting back on alcohol – are the big opportunities for us all to personally reduce our cancer risk. Making these changes is not a guarantee against cancer, but it stacks the odds in our favour.”

The following* shows the increased lifetime cancer risk for obese women by cancer type, compared with women of a healthy weight:

  • Breast cancer (postmenopausal)  25%
  • Pancreas cancer  31%
  • Bowel cancer  32%
  • Kidney cancer  78%
  • Gallbladder cancer  100%
  • Uterus (endometrium) cancer  131%
  • Esophageal cancer  133%

*Calculated by the Cancer Research UK Statistical Information Team and based on lifetime cancer risks for 2009-2011 in the UK, proportions of overweight and obese women aged 16 and over from 2011-2013 in the UK, and body-weight associated cancer risks from Parkin DM, Boyd L, Cancers attributable to overweight and obesity in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011.

In the UK it is estimated that 18,000 women develop cancer as a result of being overweight or obese each year.

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