Obesity Cancer

Can someone develop cancer from obesity? Compelling evidence suggests that yes, obesity causes cancer. However, researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how these two conditions interact.

Obesity Statistics

Obesity statistics show steadily increasing numbers of overweight and obese Americans. The Journal of the American Medical Association (2010) reports that as of 2008, one third of adult Americans were obese. Obesity increases the risk of multiple health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

Developing Cancer from Obesity

The link between cancer and obesity isn’t universal. Only certain cancers are associated with obesity. According to the American Cancer Society (2003), obesity increases the risk of:

  • Breast cancer (after menopause)
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colon or rectal cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Gall bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreas cancer
  • Stomach cancer (in men)
  • Uterine cancer.

How Obesity Causes Cancer

Exactly how obesity causes cancer is open to debate, although evidence suggests that the cancer’s location is just one of the many factors associated with obesity. For instance, obesity affects estrogen levels, perhaps explaining why women can develop uterine cancer from obesity. Obesity also increases the risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease, a known risk factor for esophageal cancer.

Mortality Rates, Cancer and Obesity

Cancer risk factors affect both treatment options and mortality rates. The American Cancer Society (2008) reports that about 14 to 20 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to excess weight or obesity problems. The report concludes that well over one third of Americans are now overweight, with overweight prevalence more than tripling among adolescents over the past 20 years alone.

Preventing Cancer from Obesity

Since cancer risk increases with obesity, losing weight may lower your risk of obesity-related cancers, among other health benefits. Even a small weight loss can improve health and lower the risk of diabetes or other conditions related to obesity.

While significant research indicates that obesity causes cancer, relatively few studies have determined whether weight loss actually lowers this risk. The increased risk of cancer in the obese suggests that weight loss could reduce cancer risk, but no larger scale clinical trials have explicitly described the relationship between the two.


American Cancer Society. (2008). ACS report calls for greater cancer prevention efforts. Retrieved July 1, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/news/acs-report-calls-for-greater-cancer-prevention-efforts.

Flegal, K. M., Carroll, M. D., Ogden, C. L.