Obesity & Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

The Obesity Factor of Colorectal Cancer RiskIt seems like every day we hear a new statistic concerning obesity. Obesity is highly associated with heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Obese children are at a heightened risk for serious health complications as they age, including increased difficulty losing weight. Obesity contributes to sleeping problems, makes career progression more difficult and is even associated with an overall higher cost of living.

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While this is a long list, it is far from complete. Recently, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Center found that obesity can actually increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. For residents of Los Angeles who may be overweight or obese, this research is significant.

Along with obesity, the researchers singled out a lack of physical activity as a primary contributing factor in colorectal cancer risk. Researchers found that those with a higher body mass index who participated in a low level of physical activity were more likely to develop a specific type of colorectal cancer.

Obesity and Colon Cancer: The Molecular Connection

To understand the impact that obesity has on colorectal cancer development, researchers evaluated the presence of a particular molecule that is associated with obesity. This molecule is often present in tumors and is known to mutate into certain forms of cancer, including colorectal cancer. After evaluating a large sample of patients, the researchers found that those who did not have the molecule and exercised the least amount experienced an increased risk for colorectal cancer. For those who did not have the molecule, likelihood of developing colorectal cancer went up significantly with every ten pounds they were overweight.

Those with the molecule experienced much less change in their risk factor for colorectal cancer as a result of weight gain or reduced activity. This gave researchers a clearer understanding of how obesity impacts people differently at the molecular level.

There are over one million adults living in the United States right now with colorectal cancer, and not all struggle with obesity. It is not possible to say that exercising and maintaining a steady weight can completely eliminate your risk of developing colorectal cancer, but it does seem possible that living a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of the disease—especially when your lifestyle includes regular exercise and a healthy diet to maintain a proper weight.

For more tips on preventing colorectal cancer, talk with your colorectal specialist.

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