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Overweight Duration and Cancer Risk in Women


Here’s more reason to encourage overweight and obese women to get started on weight loss efforts right away. According to 2016 research, the longer a woman has excess weight or obesity, the more likely she is to develop some form of cancer.

In this first-of-its-kind study, researchers looked at how long women carried extra weight, and compared that with cancer incidence. The data came from the Women’s Health Initiative, which included BMI information of 73,913 postmenopausal women from a minimum of three follow-up reports. Participants were cancer-free at baseline and provided self-reported height and weight data from when they were 18, 35 and 50 years of age.

The results, published in PLOS MEDICINE (2016. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002081), showed that the longer a woman was overweight or obese, the more likely it was that she would develop a weight-related cancer.

“For postmenopausal breast and endometrial cancer, every 10-year increase in adulthood overweight duration was associated with a 5% and 17% increase in risk, respectively,” the researchers stated. “Taking into account the intensity of overweight over time further increased the risks, and clear dose-response relationships were found.”

The authors conceded that their study could have flaws, as it relied on participants’ self-reported data, and that longer-duration follow-up was needed to solidify their results. They also noted that BMI measurements have limitations and that other measures—such as waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio—should be used to more effectively draw parallels between obesity-related health problems.

“Although the observational nature of our study precludes inferring causality or making clinical recommendations, our findings suggest that reducing overweight duration in adulthood could reduce cancer risk,” the study authors concluded. “If this is true, health care teams should recognize the potential of obesity management in cancer prevention and that excess body weight in women is important to manage regardless of age.”

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