We typically think of cancer as an illness affecting older adults, however, the research is showing that many cancers commonly found in older people have increased in prevalence in young adults.  Of the 20 most common cancers in the United States, nine are now reported in young adults. One important reason: Obesity is shifting cancer risk to young adults, according to a new analysis using evidence compiled from more than 100 studies. The analysis highlights that as obesity rates have increased in young adults, so have cancer rates.

Obesity affects cancer progression in different ways, according to researchers:

  • It over-activates the immune system to produce harmful byproducts like peroxide and oxygen radicals that mutate DNA.
  • It also alters a person’s metabolism, causing growth factor and hormone imbalances that help cancer cells thrive.
  • In the gut, it changes intestine microbiota such that tumor-promoting species dominate.
  • Acid reflux, a condition often tied with obesity, damages swallowing tubes and heightens risk of esophageal cancer.

Study author Nathan A. Berger, MD, professor of medicine, biochemistry, oncology and genetics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine said, “Obesity can permanently alter a young person’s likelihood of developing cancer. Even after losing weight, cancer risk remains. If you are obese, you are at a higher risk of cancer. If you lose weight, it improves the prognosis and may lower your risk, but it never goes away completely. Obesity causes changes to a person’s DNA that can add up over time.”

While the study findings may paint a scary picture if you are struggling with obesity, significant weight loss such as with weight loss surgery can help reduce the risks of many cancers, and can improve other health conditions that make you more vulnerable to cancer. If you would like to learn more about obesity treatments and which option may be a good choice for you, contact Dr. Misra today.