Those carrying around a few pounds extra, or maybe even a lot more, may want to get moving and to drop that excess weight for yet more compelling health causes: That’s because more than 630,000 Americans were diagnosed in 2014 with cancers linked to obesity or overweight, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported.
The CDC says 40 percent of all diagnosed cancers were associated with obesity. At a time when the nation is seeing some success in reducing overall rates of diagnosed cancers, a baker’s dozen of overweight-related cancers increased 7 percent between 2005 and 2014. Two out of three of the cancers occurred in those 50- to 74-years-old.
Federal officials have found that more than half of Americans don’t know there’s a connection between 13 kinds of cancers (see diagram) and excess weight. It took public health officials decades to persuade the public that smoking posed cancer health risks and people needed to stop—and Big Tobacco still resorts to unceasing, deceptive tactics to undermine this awareness.
But much of officials’ health awareness messaging in recent times has focused on obesity and excess weight and their harms with heart disease, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, high blood cholesterol, stroke, and diabetes. As for cancer and Americans’ weight woes, the CDC, in a new information campaign, has highlighted these of its findings:
- 55 percent of all cancers diagnosed in women and 24 percent of those diagnosed in men are associated with overweight and obesity.
- Non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites had higher incidence rates compared with other racial and ethnic groups. Black males and American Indian/Alaska Native males had higher incidence rates than white males.
- Cancers associated with overweight and obesity, excluding colorectal cancer, increased 7 percent between 2005-2014. Colorectal cancer decreased 23 percent, due in large part to screening. Cancers not associated with overweight and obesity decreased 13 percent.
- Cancers associated with overweight and obesity, excluding colorectal cancer, increased among adults younger than age 75
What’s the appropriate health response? Uncle Sam is encouraging us all to eat smarter and in moderation, and to make small, daily efforts to increase our activity—whether through gentler activities like more walking and stair climbing (instead of sitting all day at the desk or elevator riding) or with several times’ weekly vigorous exercise.
This all sounds right to me. In my practice, I see the huge harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services. To help avert this, we all need to take charge of our own health and to make the best of it that we can—avoiding doctors, hospitals, and medical care, if possible because we’re healthy. Controlling our weight can be a tough, constant challenge. Common sense and moderation can be key, and ditching our sedentary obsession with devices and screens can help. Lifestyle changes, combined with improved therapies, have helped to transform many cancers in recent times into chronic rather than lethal diseases.
The American Cancer Society, in its biannual status update on one of the leading killers of women, has reported that “breast cancer death rates declined almost 40 percent between 1989 and 2015, averting 322,600 deaths,” the Washington Post has reported.
The paper, quoting a top expert on the disease, attributed the positive outcomes to treatment advances, including improved chemotherapies developed in the 1980s and refined since. These are administered post-surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence. Experts also say gains against breast cancer can be credited to: tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen agent approved in the late 1970s; Herceptin, a drug to treat tumors with a higher-than-normal level of a protein called HER2; and drugs called aromatase inhibitors.
But the story also glumly adds:
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in U.S. women and the second-leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer. About 252,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year, and more than 40,600 women are expected to die of the disease. A woman in the United States has a 12.4 percent, or 1 in 8, lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Between 2006 and 2015, the study found, death rates decreased for all racial and ethnic groups tracked — non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics and American Indians/Alaska Natives. But there were substantial variations in mortality the different groups. In 2015, the death rate for black women diagnosed with breast cancer was 39 percent higher than that for white women. While high, that’s an improvement; the number was 44 percent higher in 2011. The black-white disparity emerged beginning in the 1980s, underscoring that black women have not shared in the screening and treatment advances that have benefited white women.
Clearly, where cancer is concerned, we have progress to make still.