5 Key Facts About Obesity’s Effect on Cancer

November 28, 2017

Nearly twenty percent of all cancers are directly related to obesity. Researchers have been studying fat cells and have discovered that fat is far more than just inconvenient bulk. Fat tissue is alive and active, and it changes the body’s complex chemical and hormonal environments.

Many of those changes seem to nurture the growth of cancer cells. Here are five key facts about what the medical and scientific communities have learned about obesity’s role in cancer development:

1.  Increased Levels of Estrogen

Fat cells release the enzymes that tell the body to convert androgens—male hormones—into estrogens. This estrogen circulates throughout the body. When it finds estrogen-sensitive tissues, it binds to their receptors and DNA. It then encourages cells to grow and spread. While closely associated with cancers of the breast and reproductive system, estrogen receptors are present throughout the body.

2.  High Levels of Insulin Encourage Tumor Cell Growth

While insulin is produced in the pancreas, insulin growth factor (IGF-1) is produced in the liver. Both, however, are involved in the body’s ability to use energy and tell cells to grow. People who are overweight or obese typically have high levels of insulin and IGF-1 in their bloodstreams—a condition commonly known as insulin resistance or prediabetes. High levels of insulin may also complicate cancer treatment.

3.  Increased Inflammation

In obesity, the abundance of fat cells results in an overproduction of signals known as adipokines. These molecules are actually cells from the immune system that infiltrate fat cells and cause inflammation. However, they also bear startling similarities to structures found in tumors. These adipokines are thought to play a role within the immune system and influence the behavior and survival of tumor cells.

 4. Immune System Complications

Researchers have found that severely obese individuals have significantly lowered levels of natural killer cell activity. This means that their immune systems are less able to defend against precancerous or cancerous cells. 

5.  Changes in Vascular Growth Factors

Vascular growth factors determine how the cells that line blood vessels adapt between the bloodstream and the surrounding tissues. Excess fat requires extensive networks of capillaries to deliver blood and support the cells. Researchers suspect that this imbalance encourages cancer cells to spread, or metastasize. As a result, obese cancer patients often experience shorter remissions and increased risk for metastatic tumors.

Reducing the Risk of Cancer

Fat cells dramatically change far more than a body’s appearance. However, obesity’s effects are not necessarily permanent. Studies have demonstrated that weight loss significantly reduces the incidence of cancer and improves survival rates. As the ratio of fat decreases, the body returns to a natural, more balanced state.

If you would like to learn more about options for shedding excess weight and reducing your risk for disease, contact the Acadiana Weight Loss Surgery team or call us at 337-233-9900.