Cancer. The very word ignites fear in the hearts and minds of most people. Cancer treatments currently save thousands of lives and survivors of cancer are living longer than ever before. Sadly, thousands still die from this dreaded disease.
Now here’s a question. If a preventive cancer treatment would save 90 thousand lives a year in the United States, shouldn’t it be available to the general U.S. population? Shouldn’t Congress and pharmaceutical companies make this treatment immediately available? Are they holding back? Give us this treatment!
This cancer prevention is readily available to each and every one of us. It isn’t a prescription or a medical treatment. It doesn’t require lobbying Congress or drug makers. The prevention is weight control.
On April 24, 2003 researchers at the American Cancer Society published a ground breaking study in the New England Journal of Medicine called, “Overweight, Obesity and Mortality from Cancer in a Prospectively Studied Cohort of U.S. Adults” that proves the definitive link between being overweight or obese and increased risk of death from all forms of cancer. This study is unique because it followed 900,053 U.S. adults from 1982 to 1998. No other study has looked at such a large cross section of the population, nor has any other study been carried out for the extended length of time this study covered. This study also controlled for confounding variables such as smoking.
Overweight and obesity were defined using the body mass index (BMI), a calculation measuring weight relative to height as an indicator of body fat and health risk. This calculation measures a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters (kg/m2). The participants were grouped by BMI into the following ranges, the proposed standards of the World Health Organization:
18.5 to 24.9 = normal weight
25.0 to 29.9 = grade 1 overweight
30.0 to 34.9 = grade 2 overweight
35.0 to 39.9 = grade 3 overweight; and
40.0 or more = obese.
The normal weight group was used as the reference group.
The results are nothing less than astounding. In both men and women there was a direct relationship between increasing BMI and death from all forms of cancer. The associations were even greater for certain cancers when the individuals had never smoked. The researchers found that death from all forms of cancer that can be attributed to overweight and obesity can be as high as 14 percent in men and 20 percent in women. Assuming that the relationship between BMI and cancer death is causal, the researchers concluded that 90 thousand deaths from cancer might be avoided each year in the United States if everyone in the adult population could maintain a normal weight. So it all comes back to eating a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Dr. Darren Kocs, a medical oncologist, has studied cancer prevention and risk. He counsels patients with cancer and those without cancer but a strong genetic predisposition about prevention.
“The crux of the issue is education. This American Cancer Society study makes it clear that being even slightly overweight increases your risk of dying from cancer. The more overweight you are the greater your risk. If you are overweight you must work to reduce your weight with diet and exercise.”
Dr. Kocs informs patients that research suggests that up to 50 percent of cancer is the result of genetic predisposition. The other 50 percent can be directly attributed to environmental factors, mainly lifestyle.
“Age is an uncontrollable risk factor for developing and dying from cancer. But one can control whether or not he smokes, drinks alcohol excessively, has increased exposure to the sun or is overweight. We have to continue to educate the public about the risk factors for cancer and encourage the public to make healthy lifestyle decisions to prevent cancer and death.”
Dr. Ruthie Harper is a board certified internist whose practice, Nutritional Medicine Associates, focuses on the link between nutrition and health.
“The importance of maintaining ideal bodyweight cannot be over emphasized. Obese individuals have increased insulin resistance resulting in a high glycemic (sugary) environment in their bodies. This is a very hospitable environment for cancer. We want to make our bodies inhospitable to cancer. That means choosing foods known to be cancer killers like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. These cruciferous vegetables contain chemicals that kill cancer cells. Tomatoes and other red vegetables contain lycopene, another cancer killer. Essential fatty acids (quality fats) help remove foreign cells and are also very oxygenating to our systems. An oxygen rich environment is inhospitable to cancer.”
Dr. Harper says many people use food for more than its intended purpose. “People need education to relearn that food is fuel. Food’s job is to provide the body with the components it needs to build cells and to provide energy to carry out cellular functions. Food is used as a social centerpiece and as comfort. These are not food’s intended roles.”
“Our bodies need protein and quality fats to build our cells and carbohydrates for energy. As we learn to eat “just what we need” to fuel our bodies, we will begin to live longer.”
The direct link between cancer and obesity can no longer be disputed. Maintaining ideal body weight must become top priority for all overweight and obese Americans to decrease their risk of death from cancer.