Obesity causing half a million cancers a year

Obesity is causing nearly half a million cancers every year worldwide, with two thirds of these in North America and Europe. 

Cancers linked to obesity account for 3.6% of all those diagnosed globally, according to the research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. 

Scientists analysed data on cancer incidence and mortality from 184 countries and estimated the fraction associated with excess bodyweight in 2012. 

In the UK, 13,000 cases diagnosed in women during 2012 (8.2% of all cancers) could be ascribed to overweight and obesity. 

Men in the UK are fourth in the world in this obesity cancer league table, with 6,000 cases (4.4% of all cancers) attributed to being overweight or obese.


The study found that a quarter of the obesity-related cancers could be attributed to rising average body mass index (BMI) in the global population since 1982 and were "realistically avoidable".

The global prevalence of obesity in adults has doubled since 1980. 

North America contributed by far the largest number of cases - 111,000 cancers - making up almost a quarter of all new cancers linked to excess weight.

Within Europe, the burden was largest in countries of the former Soviet Union. Eastern bloc countries accounted for more than a third of all the European cases, a total of 66,000 cancers.

Lead researcher Dr Melina Arnold, said that if the obesity trends continue it will certainly affect the future burden of cancer, particularly in South America and North Africa, where the largest increases in the rate of obesity have been seen over the last 30 years. 

Women over men

The results found that obesity-related cancer was a greater problem for women than men - chiefly due to womb and breast cancers. 

Excess weight was responsible for 5.4% or 345,000 new cancers in women in 2012 and 1.9% or 136,000 in men. 

Post-menopausal breast, womb and bowel cancers accounted for almost three quarters of obesity-related cancers in women. In men, bowel and kidney cancers made up the majority of excess weight-associated cancers. 

The region of the world with the lowest rates of obesity-related cancer was sub-Saharan Africa, where these cases made up 1.5% of the total. 

Dr Kate Allen, executive director of science and public affairs at World Cancer Research Fund International, which funded the research, said that cancer is an epidemic problem, and to tackle it we need to help people take measures to be a healthy weight.

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