Being overweight may increase risk of gut cancer

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Overview of Study Findings

A large new study has underscored the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, not just for overall health, but also to reduce the risk of future gastrointestinal (GI) cancer.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, found that individuals with an overweight or obese body mass index (BMI) during early and middle adulthood have an increased risk for GI cancer later in life.

Furthermore, the study indicated that regular use of aspirin did not modify this increased risk in overweight or obese individuals.

Why This Study is Important

As obesity rates continue to rise globally, understanding the link between obesity and long-term disease risk is crucial for improving public health.

The study suggests that being overweight or obese during various life stages can increase a person’s risk for gastrointestinal cancers in later adulthood.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among both men and women in the United States, with over 150,000 new cases diagnosed annually.

Details of the Study

The study aimed to understand how BMI changes during different life stages can affect GI cancer risk.

The team analyzed data from 131,161 patients enrolled in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial, which assessed the effectiveness of cancer screening exams for reducing cancer-related deaths.

The researchers defined early adulthood as age 20, middle adulthood as age 50, and later adulthood as age 55 or older.

BMI data were calculated based on self-reported questionnaires about height and weight at these ages, with participants categorized as underweight, normal, overweight, or obese according to World Health Organization standards.

The participants were followed for 13 years or until December 31, 2009, whichever occurred first.

Study Findings

The study found that individuals with an overweight or obese BMI during early, middle, and later adulthood had an increased risk for GI cancer.

The risk for colorectal and non-colorectal GI cancers also increased with a rising BMI over time. Regular aspirin use did not modify this association.

According to lead author Holli Loomans-Kropp, the study highlights the need to understand better the underlying mechanisms of cancer prevention agents and who may benefit from their use.

The field of precision prevention is still relatively new but holds promise for future cancer prevention research.

How to prevent gut cancer

While it’s not possible to completely eliminate the risk of developing gastrointestinal (GI) cancers, which include cancers of the esophagus, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, small intestine, bowel (large intestine or colon and rectum), and anus, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:

Maintain a Healthy Weight: Obesity increases the risk of many types of cancer, including GI cancers. Eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity can help maintain a healthy body weight.

Eat a Healthy Diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can lower the risk of GI cancers. Try to limit your intake of processed meats and red meat.

Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of many types of cancer. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.

Limit Alcohol: Heavy drinking increases the risk of some forms of GI cancer, including liver, esophageal, and mouth cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

Quit Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of many types of cancer, including cancers of the esophagus, liver, colon, and rectum.

Get Screened: Regular screening can often catch GI cancers in their earliest stages when they’re most treatable. Talk with your doctor about which screenings are appropriate for you.

Get Vaccinated: Certain viruses, like Hepatitis B and HPV, can increase the risk of some types of GI cancers. Vaccines are available to protect against these viruses.

Avoid Exposure to Certain Chemicals and Other Substances: Certain chemicals and substances, like asbestos, can increase the risk of some GI cancers. Try to limit your exposure whenever possible.

Remember, while these strategies can significantly decrease your risk, they can’t guarantee you’ll never get cancer.

Regular check-ups and screenings are still essential for early detection and treatment. As always, discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.

If you care about cancer, please read studies about dry shampoo and cancer risk, and vitamin D supplements strongly reduce cancer death.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about how drinking milk affects the risks of heart disease and cancer and results showing higher intake of dairy foods linked to higher prostate cancer risk.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

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