Highlights of the Annual Scientific Meeting of NAASO, The Obesity Society

October 20-24, 2006; Boston, Massachusetts

Heather K. Stein, MD, MPH


January 05, 2007

In This Article

Obesity and Cancer

Obesity affects both cancer incidence and outcomes. At a symposium on obesity and cancer, Marilie Gammon, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, stated that the impact of obesity on cancer rates has not yet been fully realized.[24] She noted that there was a time lag of approximately 30 years between increased smoking rates and resulting increased cancer rates, and that there will be a similar but shorter lag between increased obesity rates and resulting increased cancer rates. She discussed the study by Calle and colleagues,[25] which determined that patients with BMI ≥ 40 experienced death rates from all cancers that were 52% higher in men and 62% higher in women compared with patients of normal weight. BMI was also found to be positively associated with higher rates of death from many malignancies, including colorectal, prostate, cervical, and breast cancers. Dr. Gammon questioned whether changes in weight might affect cancer risk or whether weight loss is associated with decreased cancer risk. She also wondered whether the impact of weight change on cancer risk might vary with age.

Rachel Ballard-Barbash, MD, MPH, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, continued with an investigation of potential mechanisms of the effect of obesity on breast cancer.[26] She questioned whether the mechanisms were related to the role of insulin, sex hormones, oxidative stress and DNA repair, inflammation, immune function, breast density, rates of apoptosis, or genetic variation. Mary Slattery, PhD, PPH, RD, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, followed with a discussion of the interactions between obesity, inflammation, and colon cancer.[27]

Thus, although the mechanisms underlying the relationship between obesity and cancer continue to be studied, from a clinical standpoint, it remains important to educate patients about the increased cancer risk associated with obesity.


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