In the United States, roughly one in eight women develop intensive breast cancer during their lives, and women are also at risk for cervical, endometrial, skin, colorectal and ovarian cancers. A key contributing factor in cancer risk and mortality for these and other types of cancer is obesity.
The Women’s Health Initiative trial found that a longer duration of being overweight was significantly associated with all obesity-related cancers. This includes cancers of the breast (post-menopausal), endometrium, ovary, kidney, thyroid, colon, rectum, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. It is imperative, then, to address weight issues with patients early and, if necessary, often.
As many 40 percent of cancer cases could be avoided by lifestyle change, including improvements to diet and nutrition. Increases in fruits, vegetables and fiber consumed, and decreased alcohol intake is a good start. And, because being sedentary is positively and independently associated with increased risk of at least 10 types of cancer, incorporating physical activity is also imperative.
Despite the unequivocal link between obesity and cancer, patients may not fully understand the connection. This indicates that greater awareness of the connection and, correspondingly, the benefits of weight loss as a preventive or corrective measure must be made apparent through a variety of messaging to ensure full comprehension of the risks. Patients need to be aware that that diseases as serious as cancer can be prevented, or their impact lessened by changes to their diet and nutrition.
Weight loss reduces not only occurrences of cancer, but it also results in positive outcomes related to cardiovascular health, hypertension, and HDL cholesterol throughout and after cancer treatment. An upcoming review on engineered diets and cancer outcomes finds that a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) is an effective option, particularly in the case of breast tumors, which have amplified insulin-PI3k pathways. The authors found VLCDs to be “safe and feasible in subjects with cancer” and cited evidence of tumor reduction in patients with locally advanced breast cancer through the use of a VLCD. A medically-supervised weight management program, such as New Direction Advanced, includes meal replacement and nutrition products that provide the nutrition many cancer patients need as part of their weight loss program.
Until such time when the treatment of obesity is prioritized worldwide, the current approach of addressing its outcomes, including cancer, will remain the standard of care. Steady weight loss for people with overweight and obesity of any age, in combination with dietary changes and increased physical activity, must be consistently encouraged and supported. Doing so is the only way to stem the continued rise in obesity and have an impact on the associated health risks.