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Weight Gain and Cancer Risk

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, 10 types of cancers are linked with obesity. Researchers from the University of Manchester in the U.K. warn that significant weight gain throughout adulthood ups the risk—by as much as 50% for men and 17% for women—of developing obesity-related cancer.

This data comes from a retrospective cohort study of 289,000 men and women in the U.S. Each participant’s body mass index was assessed at intervals between the ages of 18 and 65. This information was then compared against cancer rates during a follow-up of about 15 years. Among participants, 9,400 women and 5,500 men were diagnosed with obesity-related cancer after age 65.

Those with the biggest increase in BMI had the highest risk of developing cancer. For example, men whose BMI rose from around 22 to 27 were 50% more likely to develop obesity-related cancer than men whose BMI was considered healthy and remained unchanged. Women fared better; those whose BMI increased from 23 to about 32 had a 17% greater risk than those who maintained a healthy weight.

“This research shows how important it is to look at weight gain over a person’s lifetime—to give a clearer picture of cancer risk through life compared [with] assessing someone’s BMI at a single point,” explained Hannah Lennon, PhD, lead author and a research associate at the University of Manchester.

Study authors presented their findings at the National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference in Liverpool, England, in November 2016.

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