Extra Pounds May Bring Cancer Risk

Being overweight may increase the risk for some types of cancer.

Experts have found links between weight and cancers of the breast, pancreas, kidney, esophagus, uterus, colon and rectum. It may also be involved in several other types of cancer too. And excess weight may raise the risk of other serious diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.*

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, excess body fat is second only to smoking as a cause of cancer. And it seems that the more overweight a person is, the greater the risk.

If you’re carrying some extra weight, don’t despair. You may help lower your cancer risk by being more active and eating a healthier diet. And those steps may help you get your weight under control, cutting your risk even more. Losing just 3 to 5 percent of your total weight can have health benefits.**

What’s the connection?

It’s a mistake to think that all fat does is make clothes tighter. In fact, fat is an active tissue.

Experts think too much body fat may raise cancer risk by affecting:***

  • Hormone levels
  • Proteins that affect how the body uses hormones
  • Growth factors that control cell growth
  • The way the immune system works

Slimming down

If your weight is in a trouble zone, start making changes that can lead to slow, steady weight loss. For instance, consider these tips:

  • Eat more plant-based foods. Choose fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Go easy on foods high in fat and sugar.
  • Watch portion sizes. Any food can add pounds if you eat too much of it.
  • Drink more water. And limit alcohol.
  • Be active. For general good health, most people should aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. But to lose pounds or maintain a weight loss, you may need more. Talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level. Ask about the amounts and types of activities that may be best for you.

If you’re lean now, make efforts to stay that way. Weigh yourself regularly. And change your diet or activity level if your weight starts to creep up.

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What to do next

Body mass index (BMI) is one way to find out if your weight is in a healthy range. It uses your height and weight to estimate your body fat. Check your BMI at uhc.com/health-and-wellness/quizzes/bmi.


*Sources: American Cancer Society; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

**Source: American Institute for Cancer Research

***Source: American Cancer Society

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be nor should be construed as medical and/or nutritional advice. Talk to an appropriate health care professional to determine what may be right for you.

Last reviewed June 2017

© 2017 United HealthCare Services, Inc.