New Research: Being Overweight Increases the Risk for These 2 Cancers

Updated: May 28, 2024

The research team found that every 11-pound weight gain caused the risk of cancer to rise an average of 11% among some documented cases.

Sometimes life gets to be so much to manage that it takes more than noticeable weight gain for self-care to suddenly become highly motivating. That’s a theme for as many of us as ever: According to a February 2024 study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, more than one billion people in the world are now living with obesity while as of 2022, 43% of adults were overweight.

We often think of obesity for its association with conditions that are explicitly connected with weight and metabolism, like diabetes and heart disease. Adding to these concerns, new research published in May 2024 found that metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that may include symptoms like increased waist size, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and low levels of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol—may be connected with two cancers that affect women.

The review article was published in the peer-reviewed journal Biomolecules and Biomedicine and developed by a team of 11 endocrinology researchers in Serbia. The researchers performed a prospective analysis involving 245,009 female patients and found that factors related to obesity and metabolic syndrome—such as body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and hip-to-waist ratio—can all be connected with a higher risk of endometrial cancer.
According to the study, “it is believed that more than 50% of patients with newly diagnosed endometrial cancer are obese.” The research found that endometrial cancer patients who are obese are also at risk for poorer outcomes, with patients who had a BMI between 30 and 34.9 experiencing a mortality risk twice as high as patients who are average weight, while patients who are considered “extremely obese” with a BMI of 40 or over have a mortality risk six times as high as those of average weight.
The team also found that a higher BMI was an indicator of breast cancer risk for postmenopausal women, with people who are obese experiencing an 82% higher risk. “Overall,” the researchers note, “each increase in body weight by 5 kilograms increases the relative risk of developing cancer in any location by [11%]. ” Five kilograms equates to 11 pounds.
The mechanism behind this effect, as the researchers explain, is this: “Due  to  the  lipotoxicity in [fat] tissue, there is damage to the cellular membrane, consequently leading to cellular injury, exacerbating the inflammatory process.” Eventually, they say, this can signal pathways and lead to “oxidative DNA damage and, thus, carcinogenesis,” or the development of cancer.
The researchers add: “Maintaining a stable body weight is crucial, especially in postmenopausal women.”
The researchers also note that prior HPV infection “activates a series of … pathways, which are characteristic of the metabolism of cancer cells.”
So while many women can feel doomed that weight gain in mid-life is inevitable, this research helps reinforce how valuable it can be to make a healthy diet and plenty of physical activity primary priorities in our lives.
Managing weight can be easier said than done, but the researchers suggest a few key ways for women who are obese to start to lower their risk, based on research—including medical nutritional therapy; regular exercise; and when necessary, medication, such as those that target lowering cholesterol, like evolocumab, and those that manage blood sugar, like metformin. The researchers note that bariatric surgery is “the most effective method” to treat obesity, achieving sustainable weight loss of 25%, though it’s only recommended for certain patients.
The team notes that when appropriate, hormone replacement therapy may help lower women’s cancer risk in some cases. It’s not recommended to administer hormones or other treatments without the guidance of a licensed healthcare professional.