A new study published this year in the medical journal PLOS Medicine and reported by by Harvard Women’s Health Watch suggests women who carry extra weight for longer periods of time have an increased risk of developing cancer.
The study, which is believed to be the first to look at the impact of obesity duration on the risk of cancer, reviewed and analyzed records of 74,000 participants enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative. The women who participated were free of cancer at the start of the study and had their BMI’s (Body Mass Index) recorded over the course of several years.
Over the course of the study, researchers found that, “...being obese or overweight was associated with greater risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, or cancer of the pancreas, colon, kidney, endometrium, ovary, or gallbladder.” (Harvard Women’s Health Watch). Furthermore, the amount of weight and the length of time spent overweight seemed to be important factors in the increased risk.
Data from the study showed that, “being overweight for a longer duration during adulthood significantly increased the incidence of all obesity-related cancers by 7%, of postmenopausal breast cancer by 5%, and of endometrial cancer by 17%. After adjusting for the intensity of overweight, these figures rose to 8% for postmenopausal breast cancer and 37% for endometrial cancer.” (PLOS Medicine)
While the results of this study are certainly worth a look, it's important to note that because the study was observation based, clinical recommendations cannot be made as a result. The findings do however, “suggest that reducing overweight duration in adulthood could reduce cancer risk and that obesity prevention is important from early onset.” (PLOS Medicine)
So what does this all mean? Put simply, the study suggests that the amount of time women spend overweight, and the severity of the weight they are carrying, may play a role in the risk of developing cancer. This and other studies should hopefully encourage health teams to look at weight management as a way to lower the risk of developing cancer and lead to more research on the subject.