New evidence shows waistline linked to cancer risk

Sunday 6 May, 2007

New Australian research involving over 40,000 Victorians has found a direct link between waist measurement and cancer risk.   

The research, conducted by The Cancer Council Victoria, reveals a waist measurement of over 100cm for men, and over 85cm for women, can significantly increase the risk of cancer, including breast, bowel and aggressive prostate cancers.

The startling findings of the 20-year study have prompted the development of a confronting television commercial warning the public of the risks of being overweight.  The advertisement will begin screening on free-to-air television across the state today.

Senior epidemiologist at The Cancer Council Victoria, Professor Dallas English, supervised the analysis of the data.

"The research focused on several indicators that could potentially influence a person's cancer risk including body mass index, height and weight, bioimpedance  (muscle versus fat analysis), and waist measurement.   The findings were most significant for waist circumference, and it's beneficial that this a simple measure with which most Australians can identify," said Professor English.

"The results show being overweight or obese is associated with increased risk of several types of cancer.  The evidence is clear for cancer of the colon, post menopausal breast, endometrium, kidney and oesophagus.  For example, for men with a waistline over 100cm, risk was found to increase by 72% for colon cancer and 43% for prostate cancer.  For women with a waistline over 85cm, risk was found to be 22% higher for breast cancer and 33% higher for colon cancer," he added.

Director of The Cancer Council Victoria, Professor David Hill, said, "While being overweight has been proved to be a major contributor for many other serious diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, the link to cancer is relatively new.   

"The Cancer Council estimates that in Victoria in 2004, 1100 cancer cases and 500 cancer deaths can be attributed to overweight and obesity.

"We are concerned that many people do not know they are overweight, and consequently, at risk of cancer.   Data collected in Victoria in 2004 show 14.3% of men and 14.7% of women are classified as obese while 42% of men and 23% of women are overweight. 

"We are now encouraging Australians to identify whether they are overweight and to take the appropriate steps to manage their situation.  The first step is for people to measure their waist.  Our research shows, cancer risk increases at 85cm for women, and 100cm for men.

"People who exceed these measures should look at implementing changes to reduce their cancer risk.   The Cancer Council is providing advice on steps they can take," added Professor Hill.   

As part of the campaign, the Cancer Council has developed an on-line cancer risk assessment tool that enables individuals to establish their cancer risk.  Visit and go to ‘Calculating Your Risk' under the ‘Obesity Campaign' section.  Visitors to the site can also request a free information pack and tape measure. 

Visit the Cancer Council Website at to find out how you can reduce your cancer risk, or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.





Health 2000-2020 was established in the early 1990s by Professor Graham Giles of The Cancer Council's Epidemiology Unit to determine why migrants from Southern European backgrounds had 30% less chance of developing cancer or heart disease, had lower morbidity levels than people born in Australia and lived on average four or five years longer.

The aim of the study is to establish the extent to which lifestyle factors including nutrition and exercise affect a person's risk of developing certain types of cancer.

It involves the ongoing collection and analysis of blood, DNA samples, body measurements and extensive questionnaire data regarding diet, lifestyle and cancer incidence from over 41,500 Victorians.

The Cancer Council holds all original blood samples in frozen storage.  The study enables the identification of all participants who have developed cancer and/or died from their disease and analysis of blood samples, physical information and diet and lifestyle patterns.

For men with a waistline over 100cm, risk was found to increase by 72% for colon cancer and 43% for prostate cancer.  For women with a waistline over 85cm, risk was found to be 22% higher for breast cancer and 33% higher for colon cancer.

In those who are overweight, for all cancers, for every 10cm increase in waist circumference, cancer risk increases by 6% for men and 8% for women.

This research forms part of the Health 2020 study and is the subject of a thesis completed by PhD student Robert MacInnes.

An abstract from the study, with an overview of risk for each cancer, can be downloaded from



  • Measure your waist at the halfway point between your lowest rib and the top of your hipbone.  This point is around your stomach, roughly in-line with your belly button.
  • Take the measure directly on your skin
  • Take the measure at the end of expiration (breathing out normally).
  • The tape should be snug, but shouldn't compress the flesh.



Overweight and obesity have recently overtaken tobacco smoking as the leading risk factor for premature death and disease in Australia. Obesity accounts for 8.6% of the disease burden in 2003.  In Victoria in

2001 it was estimated as accounting for 8% of the disease burden.



  • Stay away from sweet drinks, including soft drinks and fruit juice - opt for water instead.
  • Reduce portion sizes - many people eat much more than they need. Try cutting your usual portion by one third.
  • Choose non-fat or reduced fat milk and dairy products.
  • Snack on fruit and vegetables if hungry.
  • Aim to exercise for at least 30-60 minutes every day.


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