New Research: Being Overweight Raises Cancer Risk for the Young

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on August 2, 2018 · 0 comments

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine put together evidence from over 100 research studies to show that being overweight is increasing the risk for cancer in young adults. Cancers typically seen in adults over age 50, are now being reported with increasing frequency in younger adults. In 2016, 1 in 10 new breast cancer cases and 1 in 4 new thyroid cancer cases were found in adults aged 20 to 44.

Carrying too much weight can speed up cancer progression in several ways shortening the time between the benign and malignant stage. Obesity overactivates the natural immune system that can change a person’s DNA over time. It alters metabolism causing imbalances that allow cancer cells to thrive. In the GI tract, obesity changes the natural gut microbiome which may allow tumor-promoting micro-organisms to take over. Acid reflux, common in overweight people, damages the swallowing tube and increases the risk for esophageal cancer.

The most effective way to slow down the progression of earlier adult cancers is to prevent obesity in both children and young adults. This is an enormous challenge because there are already 110 million obese children and adolescents and 640 million obese adults worldwide who are at-risk.

Obviously medical professionals need to keep encouraging obesity prevention, weight management and increased physical activity for both children and young adults. In some cases, bariatric surgery should be considered. In the short term, we may need to consider screening younger adults for signs of cancer. Younger women should be encouraged to perform breast self-examination and regular thyroid checks should become part of routine examinations.

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