Epidemiology of Overweight/Obesity and Cancer Risk

Part of the Energy Balance and Cancer book series (EBAC, volume 3)


Increased body adiposity is an established risk factor for cancer development. In a large standardized meta-analysis of prospective observational studies, the author and collaborators quantified the risk associated with body mass index (BMI) in 20 cancer types and demonstrated that associations are often sex- and site-specific; exist for a wider range of malignancies than previously thought; and are broadly consistent across geographic populations. Given the biological plausibility, the consistency of associations, the sufficiently long latency times between BMI measurement and cancer occurrence and the recent observations of apparent cancer risk protection in grossly obese patients following bariatric surgery, these associations are probably causal. Further analyses are now revealing that other major cancer risk factors may effect associations between BMI and cancer risk in a site-specific manner – for example hormonal replacement therapy usage and risk of breast and endometrial cancers. These observations point to a diversity of potential processes operating for different cancer types, such that it is unlikely that there is a ‘one system fits all’ mechanism. As the obesity epidemic continues, incidences of obesity-related cancers may rise. There is a need to better understand the biological and molecular mechanisms underpinning the link between obesity and different cancers, so that targeted-based strategies are developed to integrate with population-based weight control policies.


Body mass index Obesity Cancer risk Epidemiology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Cancer and Enabling Sciences, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, University of ManchesterManchesterUK
  2. 2.Department of SurgeryThe Christie NHS Foundation TrustManchesterUK

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