It’s a shocking statistic, but true: After heart disease, cancer is the leading cause of death not only in the U.S., but across the world as well.1-2 But the great news is that deaths from cancer have been dropping steadily over the past few decades. In fact, newly released statistics from the American Cancer Society3 show a 27 percent reduction in cancer mortality over the span of 25 years. This equates to a decline of approximately 1.5 percent per year between 1991 and 2016 — and 2.6 million fewer cancer deaths during that timeframe. Researchers attribute these reductions primarily to steady reductions in smoking, coupled with advances in early detection and treatment.
Yet the news isn’t all good, unfortunately. While cancer survival rates have been going up, brand-new research4 shows that young people are being diagnosed with cancer at alarming rates, especially cancers that are associated with obesity. Obesity in the U.S. and throughout the world continue to climb.5 All of this leaves researchers wondering whether the improvements we’ve been seeing with cancer will eventually recede, as the long-term effects of obesity continue to emerge.
Here’s what you need to know about this important topic, including areas where progress is being made and where signs of concern are emerging — along with information you can use, starting today, that may help you reduce your risk of developing obesity-related cancers.
Where we’re seeing improvement
Survival rates from cancer have improved in many areas over the past few decades. According to the latest report from the American Cancer Society:4
- The overall death rate from cancer dropped by 1.4 percent per year in women and 1.8 percent in men from 2007 to 2016.
- Death rates from lung cancer dropped 48 percent among men from 1990 to 2016; they dropped 23 percent among women from 2002 to 2016.
- Breast cancer deaths dropped an impressive 40 percent among women from 1989 to 2016. The American Cancer Society notes this is likely due to early detection improvements.
- Survival from a majority of the most common cancers has improved since the mid‐1970s.6
What’s more, incidence rates of new cancer diagnoses dropped by approximately 2 percent per year in men while remaining about the same for women between 2006 and 2015.7
Where we’re seeing less progress
Despite all of the great news, there is some troubling data emerging. For instance, a study published in February 20195 found that adults between the ages of 25 and 49 are experiencing a significant increase in six obesity-related cancers, including colorectal, kidney and pancreatic — with a steeper rise in progressively younger generations. The researchers state that these increases might be influenced by the rapid rise in the number of people who are overweight or obese; between 1980 and 2014, they say, the prevalence of overweight or obese in the U.S. increased by more than 100 percent among children and adolescents, and by 60 percent among adults between the ages of 20 and 74.
The researchers add that excess weight could account for up to 60 percent of all endometrial cancers, 33 percent of kidney cancers and 17 percent of pancreatic cancers among adults aged 30 and older in the U.S. in 2014.
Other areas of concern:
- Liver cancer rates are rising faster in both men and women than for any other type of cancer.8 However, the silver lining is that research has found that 71 percent of cases in the U.S. may be preventable, since most risk factors — obesity, excess alcohol consumption, and smoking, for example — can be modified.8
- Breast cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of death for women between the ages of 20 and 59 and incidence rates have slightly increased from 2006 to 2015. Researchers note that this trend may be due in part to increasing rates of obesity.8
How does obesity affect cancer?
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health,8 there is consistent evidence that higher amounts of body fat are associated with an increased risk of more than a dozen cancers, including breast, kidney, liver, ovarian and pancreatic. In fact, one study estimates that approximately 28,000 new cases of cancer in men and 72,000 in women were linked to being overweight or obese in the U.S. in 2012.9
There are several mechanisms by which obesity may increase the risk of some cancers, the NCI reports.9 For instance, people who are obese often suffer from chronic low-level inflammation which can cause DNA damage over time and lead to cancer. Another factor is that fatty tissue produces extra estrogen; high levels of this hormone have been linked to increased risks of breast, endometrial, ovarian and other cancers.
Obesity can also cause increased levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (which can also contribute to the development of diabetes). High levels of both of these may spur the development of colon, endometrial, kidney and prostate cancers.9
Steps you can take to help reduce your risk for obesity-related cancers
To help you potentially lower your risk of developing cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends that you:
1. Get regular screening tests for cancer. Talk to your doctor about which ones you need, and when.
2. Lose weight if you need to. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for several types of cancer. Try to do everything you can to get to — and stay at — a healthy weight. Even losing 5-10 percent of your weight can have significant impacts on your health. Also, try to naturally reduce inflammation.
3. Exercise regularly. Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancer, including breast, colon and endometrial. Adults should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
4. Eat a healthy diet. Research shows that eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and fish or poultry is linked with a lower risk of developing certain cancers. On the other hand, eating more processed and red meat is linked with a higher risk of developing some cancers. Toward that end, you should aim to:
- Eat at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day (learn how to incorporate veggies at any meal)
- Try and eat less red and processed meat
- Choose whole grains over refined ones; such as opting for brown rice over white
- Eat sweets in moderation or reduce your intake
5. Don’t smoke. Approximately 80 percent of lung cancer deaths and 30 percent of all cancer deaths are caused by tobacco use.
6. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol increases your risk for certain types of cancer, including breast, colon, esophagus, liver and throat.
While there are still many areas of concern when it comes to cancer, especially with the rise of obesity-related cancers, science continues to make great strides in combatting this disease. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to focus on making healthy choices, every day.
Do you need help getting to a healthy weight? Contact Jenny Craig for a free appointment and get started on the path to better health today.
Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus.
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