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Effects of Obesity on Colorectal Cancer

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Effects of Obesity on Colorectal Cancer

— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.

Evidence linking obesity and cancer is well-researched and supported. Among the most common types of cancer is colorectal cancers (CRC), with strong links connecting body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio to a higher risk of developing CRC.

Consider the following:

  • Colon and rectum cancers are the fourth most common types of cancer in the United States
  • Approximately 50,000 deaths result each year from CRC
  • People with obesity are 30 percent more likely than people who maintain a healthy weight to develop colorectal cancer
  • Men are more likely than women to develop CRC
  • CRC, lung and prostate cancers represented more than 40 percent of cancer diagnoses in men in 2020
  • CRC, breast and lung cancers represented roughly 50 percent of new cancer diagnoses for women in 2020
  • Young adults who are overweight or obese at age 21 are more prone to CRC compared to others in healthy weight range
  • Early-onset CRC is the third leading cause of cancer death in people under the age of 50

Top Factors Contributing to Colorectal Cancer

Among the top factors contributing to CRC are being overweight or obese, a lack of physical activity, poor food selections and other unhealthy lifestyle choices. Obesity, specifically central obesity, has strong connections to CRC and also contributes to poor prognoses in its development. As such, intensive lifestyle modification can have a significant effect on reducing the likelihood of developing CRC and other cancers. This will become increasingly important to reduce the increasing number of cases in younger populations.

Benefits of a Very Low Calorie Diet

Research finds that weight loss following the New Direction Program reduced inflammation in colorectal mucosa and notably modulated cancer-related gene pathways, which could lower the risk of developing CRC.1 Further, studies consistently find that a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) is effective at achieving weight loss within a feasible timeframe and with no clinically adverse side effects that would require termination of the program. Additionally, they offer high stakeholder value, meaning that physicians report positive change and that both they and patients indicate satisfaction.2

Because the risks are modifiable, weight loss offers clear and significant benefits to patients with obesity that have a higher likelihood of developing colorectal or other types of cancers. VLCDs are an excellent option because hypocaloric diets have an anti-inflammatory effect which can help prevent cancer and other chronic disease.3 Screening colonoscopies, particularly for high-risk patients under the age of 50, when screening typically begins, could also help identify adenomas for removal in order to reduce the risk of cancer.


  1. Diet-induced Weight Loss Reduces Colorectal Inflammation: Implications for Colorectal Carcinogenesis
  2. Efficacy of a Dietitian-led Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) Based Model of Care to Facilitate Weight Loss for Obese Patients Prior to Elective, Non-bariatric Surgery
  3. Weight Loss is a Critical Factor to Reduce Inflammation

About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.

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