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August 17, 2016 | 2 minute read

Study: Every decade of being overweight ups cancer risk for women

Updates on May 17, 2021

AICR’s evidence shows that carrying extra body fat increases risk for 12 types of cancer, including postmenopausal breast and endometrial. Now a new study looking at how long women have overweight and obesity suggests that if women keep their weight steady and/or lose weight – even small amounts – that may help lower risk for several cancers, especially postmenopausal breast and endometrial.

The study gives more insight into whether losing weight leads to lower cancer risk. It makes sense that it would, and we know it helps prevent other chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, but researchers are still working to establish the link with cancer risk.

Using data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study, researchers looked at how long women had overweight and/or obesity before developing cancer compared to women who did not develop cancer. The 74,000 postmenopausal women ages 50-79, had their weight and height measured when entering the study and again 3 years later. They self-reported weight and height, looking back to ages 18, 35 and 50, and also several times later in the study. They used that data to do the analysis based on statistical modeling.

Study authors found that the longer women were overweight, the higher their risk for obesity-related caners (colon, rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, postmenopausal breast, endometrium, ovary, kidney, thyroid). In fact, for every 10 years of overweight (BMI 25 or more) or obesity (BMI 30 or more) as an adult, their risk went up by 7 percent. For postmenopausal breast cancer, risk increased by 5 percent and for endometrial, 17 percent.

For every 10 years that women had a BMI of at least 35, breast cancer risk  went up by 8 percent and for endometrial, 37 percent. The authors note this is the first study to look at how the length and amount of adult overweight and obesity impact cancer risk. These results support the message that it’s never too late to take action to lower your risk through avoiding weight gain and possibly by losing weight.

Whether your weight is at a healthy level, or you’ve been gaining more that is right for you, now is a good time to take action to not gain more. Join AICR’s Healthy10 Challenge to eat a more cancer-protective diet, move more and get on a path to a healthier lifestyle. Sign up now.

This study was funded by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH; University of California, Irvine; and World Cancer Research Fund International

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