Obese women 40% more likely to develop some cancers: new figures

Tuesday 24 March, 2015

Victorians urged to recognise strong link between weight and cancer

New figures have revealed that women who are obese are 40% more likely to develop certain cancers than women of a healthy weight, prompting urgent calls for Victorians to be aware of the link between weight and cancer.

The new statistics from Cancer Research UK show that obese women have around a one in four risk of developing a cancer linked to weight in their lifetime. This includes bowel, post-menopausal breast, gallbladder, uterus (endometrium), kidney, pancreatic and oesophageal cancer.
In a group of 1,000 obese women, 274 will be diagnosed with a bodyweight-linked cancer, compared to 194 women diagnosed in a group of 1,000 healthy weight women.

Head of Prevention at Cancer Council Victoria Craig Sinclair says “These stark new statistics provide even more evidence of the strong link between weight and cancer – a link that most people aren’t aware of. With 1 in 6 Victorian women being obese and 1 in 4 being overweight1 any efforts that can have an effect on reducing our high rates of obesity will undoubtedly save lives.”

While these new statistics focus on women, Mr Sinclair warns that men aren’t immune either.

“We know that men who carry excess weight also have an increased risk of certain weight-related cancers than those who are of a healthy weight. For instance men with a waistline over 100cm have a significantly greater risk of bowel and aggressive prostate cancer than those who have a waist measurement less than 94cm. At a time when 1 in 6 Victorian men are obese and almost 1 in 2 are overweight2, men need to heed the warning just as much as women.”

Mr Sinclair said what makes these findings even more worrying is that many people don’t know that weight can affect your cancer risk.

“Recent Cancer Council Victoria research found that cancer prevention messages about sun protection and smoking are getting through, but only 2% of Victorians recognised the link between weight control and cancer3,” Mr Sinclair said.

“Eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise does require a little extra work, but we need people to understand that the health consequences relating to cancer of not being a healthy weight can be significant.”

LiveLighter Campaign Manager and Dietitian Alison Ginn says the good news is that it’s never too late to make healthy changes and reduce your risk of weight-related cancers.

“If we focus on small sustainable changes, like learning to read food labels, avoiding hidden sugars and taking the stairs instead of the lift, we can create healthy habits that help lose weight or maintain a healthy weight,” Ms Ginn says.

“Environmental factors have a lot to do with what we eat, how much exercise we do and whether we stick to our goals. So if you’re trying to lose weight, try to build a healthy and supportive network around you and arm yourself with the tools and knowledge you need to succeed.”

The LiveLighter website provides a wealth of information, resources and tools, including an online meal and activity planner with healthy recipes that are easy to make. For more information visit www.livelighter.com.au

LiveLighter is a public health education campaign which encourages Victorians to lead healthier lives by changing what they eat and drink, and being more active. Delivered by the Cancer Council Victoria, in partnership with the Heart Foundation, LiveLighter is funded by the State Government and is viewed as a critical element of Healthy Together Victoria.

1 24.8% of Victorian women are overweight and 17.3% are obese according to the Victorian Population Health Survey 2011–12.
2 40.9% of Victorian men are overweight and 17.6% are obese according to the Victorian Population Health Survey 2011–12.
3 Changes in perceptions of body weight, physical activity and dietary factors in relation to cancer risk in the population: updated findings Cancer Issues Population Survey (CIPS) 2012, Cancer Council Victoria.