Surprising Discovery: Weight Loss Linked to Higher Cancer Risk

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Excess weight can contribute to various health concerns, notably cancer. Research indicates that obesity is correlated with a minimum of 13 different forms of cancer.

In regions like North America, Europe, and the Middle East, obesity is implicated in up to 9% of cancer cases. It may even emerge as the primary cause of cancer among UK women within the next 25 years. Prioritizing weight loss is thus crucial for overall health.

However, a recent study revealed an unexpected outcome. It discovered that shedding weight was linked to a notably higher cancer incidence within the first 12 months post-weight loss, compared to those who hadn’t undergone weight loss.

Utilizing information from almost 160,000 healthcare workers tracked over an average of 28 years, the study examined their health and habits, with updates provided every two years until 2016. Special emphasis was placed on tracking changes in their weight.

Individuals were categorized into three groups depending on the degree of intentionality in their weight loss efforts: “high” for those focusing on both diet and exercise, “medium” for those making changes in either diet or exercise and “low” for those not making significant improvements in either area.

One notable discovery among the participants was this: individuals who shed over 10% of their body weight experienced a markedly elevated likelihood of receiving a cancer diagnosis within the subsequent year.

However, not all types of cancer showed the same association with weight loss. The research identified a robust correlation between weight loss and cancers affecting the upper digestive system (esophagus and stomach), liver, pancreas, and bile ducts.

For these particular types, the risk significantly escalated, with probabilities soaring from three to over sevenfold. However, the association was less pronounced for colorectal and lung cancers. Interestingly, it didn’t appear to impact the chances of developing breast, prostate, and cancers specific to women.

Some limits

However, the authors of the study exercise caution. They acknowledge certain limitations in their research. Notably, they depended on individuals’ self-reported weights, which may not always be precise.

Furthermore, they conducted follow-ups with participants only once every two years, potentially resulting in overlooked details. Additionally, the study primarily focused on US healthcare professionals, who might possess greater awareness of cancer and enjoy better healthcare access.

Interestingly, the highest risk was observed among individuals with the least intentional weight loss efforts (classified as “low intentionality for weight loss”). Thus, upon closer examination, this study reinforces existing knowledge: if you’re experiencing unintentional weight loss, it’s crucial to investigate the underlying reasons, as highlighted by the NHS.

What sets this study apart is its ability to identify which cancers could potentially underlie unexplained weight loss. Consequently, when individuals experience weight loss without an apparent cause, healthcare professionals may prioritize screening for specific cancers, particularly those affecting the stomach or liver, to determine the underlying factors.

Conversely, ample evidence underscores the advantages of intentional weight loss. For example, research published in 2022 revealed that individuals making substantial lifestyle modifications experienced a 16% reduced risk of obesity-related cancers. Similarly, another study from the same year demonstrated that weight-loss surgery significantly diminished the risk of developing and succumbing to cancer.

Hence, it’s crucial to bear in mind the established advantages of weight management and maintaining an active lifestyle in preventing cancer.

Weight management encompasses a multifaceted approach involving medication, surgical interventions, and lifestyle adjustments. Looking ahead, advancements in our understanding of factors influencing overall health may enable us to customize weight objectives more effectively to meet individual needs.

This article has been reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.