Obesity has been linked to more than 13 types of cancer—but new research shows that eating a healthy diet might help reduce your risk.

Zee Krstic and Jaime Milan
May 08, 2018

You may think someone’s risk of developing cancer has to do with their genetics and family history. And that’s partly true. But new research shows that one out of every three cancer cases may actually be linked to obesity.

The research, which is presented in a new report published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, shows how lifestyle factors can affect a person’s risk of developing cancer.

One of the strongest pieces of evidence within the report comes from a 2015 study published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The report linked excess body fat to a higher risk of developing more than 13 types of cancer—including postmenopausal breast cancer and ovarian, liver, colon, pancreatic, gastric, and endometrial cancers. The study also confirmed that obesity has "surpassed tobacco use as the leading preventable cause of cancer" in the United States.

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Stephen D. Hursting, PhD, MPH, was the study's lead author, and a professor within the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Alongside a team of researchers, Hursting looked at how excess body fat influences the possibility of developing cancer in the body.

According to the study, obesity “exacerbates tumor development” and can lead to various types of cancer. The study suggests that obese individuals also have a harder time fighting and treating cancer because their body is already in poor health.

The report examined how changing your diet—through intermittent fasting or eating a low-calorie or low-fat diet—could potentially reverse the effects of "obesity-associated alterations."  Though researchers found clear connections between an individual’s body weight and their risk of developing cancer, they agree that more research is needed to confirm if reversing obesity could reduce someone’s cancer risk outright.

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Over 40 percent of adults and 20 percent of children in the U.S. are obese, and over 400,000 cancer diagnoses each year are related to obesity. According to the study, “Obesity is fast becoming the leading preventable cause of cancer.”

Though researchers haven't unlocked the key to exactly how obesity increases your risk of developing cancer, this research shows that lifestyle choices could play a substantial role in preventing the disease.

The bottom line: If you have a family history of cancer, or present other risk factors, one thing you can do to drastically reduce your risk is to examine your diet and work on getting healthy.

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