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Preventing 320 Cancers a Day: Updated Estimate on Obesity-Related Cancers

For cancer, there’s little doubt that being at a healthy weight and waist size can prevent cancer. Updated AICR estimates show that approximately 320 cases of cancer in the United States could be prevented every day.

The new estimates (see chart) comes on the heels of a recent poll that finds fewer than one in ten Americans know that overweight and obesity link to increased cancer risk.

“These are estimates and not precise figures, but the evidence is clear and consistent when it comes to obesity and cancer risk,” said AICR Director of Research Susan Higginbotham, PhD, MPH, RD. “Our expert report and its updates show that body fatness increases the risk of several common kinds of cancer.”

Percentage of Cancers that Could Be Prevented by Staying Lean

Cancer Site

% link to excess
body fat

Cases Prevented Annually













Breast (postmenopausal)









Total estimate for body fatness related cancers



*Sources: AICR/WRCF, Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention 2009 (updated August 2012); National Cancer Institute

Preventing Thousands of Cancer Cases

AICR estimates that approximately 117,000 cases of cancer occurring in the United States every year are attributable to excess body fat. The figure has increased from the 100,000 preventable cases of cancer cited in 2009 as incidence of cancers has increased.

AICR/WCRF’s systematic review of the global research links excess body fat to increased risk of seven cancers, including colorectal, postmenopausal breast and endometrial. The most recent analysis of the evidence was released in October. AICR/WCRF’s continuous update report on pancreatic cancer found that staying lean could prevent approximately one in five cases of the cancer, which is one of the most deadly cancer types.

One third of US adults are obese and another one third are overweight, according to the most recent government statistics. About one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are overweight or obese.

There are several ways in which excess body fat may increase cancer risk. Fat tissue produces proteins called cytokines that can cause chronic inflammation, which increases cancer risk. Being overweight and obese also increases blood levels of insulin and related hormones that can spur the growth of cancer cells.

“Understanding how excess body fat causes cancer is one of the hot topics in research right now,” says Higginbotham. “Understanding the various mechanisms will help us learn more about preventing and treating obesity-related cancers.”

Americans Unaware of Obesity-Cancer Link

According to the new poll, Americans rank overweight and obesity second only to cancer when it comes to serious health issues. Yet while about seven of ten adults know that overweight and obesity play a role in heart disease and diabetes, relatively few are aware that obesity also increases the risk of many other serious health conditions.

Only 7 percent of adults stated that being overweight and obesity increases the risk of cancer, according to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Released last week, the phone survey was a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults.

Cancer was among the least known health problem related to overweight and obesity: 8 percent know it affects risk of death; 21 percent know it affects high blood pressure, and 14 percent knew it affects arthritis and joint problems.

Overall, only about one of two people say their health care provider has given them information about the health risks of being overweight or obese and strategies to maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight, the survey found.

In total, AICR/WCRF estimates that close to 400,000 cases of the most common cancers in the United States can be prevented each year by eating a healthy diet, undertaking regular physical activity, being at a healthy weight and limiting alcohol consumption.


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