Alert: Obesity-Related Cancers on Rise in Young People

Premier Health Now

For anyone concerned about links between obesity and some cancers, new findings released by the American Cancer Society are even more unsettling. A recent study showed obesity-related cancers in young people are on the rise in significant numbers.

Cancers associated with excess body weight include colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, pancreatic, and multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow).

Premier Health Now spoke with surgical oncologist James Ouellette, DO, Premier Surgical Oncology, about the alarming trend. He performs surgeries on patients with pancreatic and colorectal cancers and observes, “In my own experience over 15 years, the only patients I’ve taken care of in their 20s with pancreatic cancer have been obese.”

He has observed similar patterns in young people with colorectal cancer. With more than 40 percent of Americans being obese, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Dr. Ouellette is concerned but not surprised at this rise in cancer among people under age 50 – with the largest increases in people in their 20s.

Although an exact cause and effect between obesity and cancer isn’t known, Dr. Ouellette speculates, “Factors such as diet or processed foods may make our bodies more susceptible to cellular changes or change our immune response to cancer cells. One possibility is that fat cells are producing hormones that stimulate cancer cells. Generally, the healthier and stronger a person is, the better that person can fight cancer and tolerate cancer treatment. At baseline, people who are obese are less healthy.”

Dr. Ouellette acknowledges that less physical activity contributes to obesity and “it’s harder and more expensive to have a good diet. This, coupled with a technology-heavy culture, results in more sedentary lives.”

He urges, “This is an issue where parents need to pay attention for their kids. We need to change how we eat and how we teach our kids to eat. The younger we allow obesity to happen, the earlier we may start to see these cancers.”