Aug 26, 2016 1:00 AM

People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for more cancers than previously thought, says a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine August 25, 2016. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) brought together a group of 21 researchers from around the world to look at more than 1,000 studies linking excess body fat and cancer. Neli Ulrich, PhD, senior director of Population Sciences at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), was a member of the group. Ulrich is a cancer researcher who studies lifestyle and biologic factors in cancer prevention and cancer prognosis.

What does the report say?

The IARC report shows more evidence that excess body fat increases the risk of many cancers. It also shows that eight more cancers are linked to body fatness than were previously thought.

The research group found “sufficient evidence” that having healthy levels of body fat reduces the risk of these cancers:

  • Esophageal adenocarcinoma
  • Gastric cardia (part of the stomach)
  • Colon and rectum
  • Liver
  • Gallbladder
  • Pancreas
  • Breast (in postmenopausal women)
  • Endometrium (part of the uterus)
  • Ovary
  • Renal-cell kidney
  • Meningioma (a type of brain and spinal cord tumor)
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Thyroid

The group found “limited evidence” that a healthy body fat level reduces the risk of these cancers:

  • Fatal prostate cancer
  • Breast cancer in men
  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma

How do you know if you are overweight or obese?

Body mass index (BMI) is a tool that compares height to weight. Adults can find their BMI with this BMI calculator or by looking at this BMI index chart.

  • If your BMI is greater than or equal to 25 kg/m2, you are considered overweight.
  • If your BMI is greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2, you are considered obese.
It’s important to know BMI is an approximate guide because it does not say how much body fat a person has or how fit they are. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “A trained healthcare provider should perform appropriate health assessments in order to evaluate an individual’s health status and risks.”

Read the IARC press release to learn more about the report.

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