Being overweight or obese at any point in life can increase a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer down the line, and the longer a person is overweight the more the risk builds, a new study found.
Researchers from the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, just under 200 miles from Munich, found that being overweight will slowly build risk of developing colorectal cancer – similarly to how smoking increases risk of lung cancer.
The research team believes that the link between being overweight or obese and developing the potentially devastating form of cancer is stronger than many believe.
For a nation like the U.S., where 42 percent of Americans over the age of 20 are obese and 74 percent are overweight, this study has massive implications on the nation’s health care system.
Being overweight at any point in life can carry cause a person to have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, a new study finds. The more overweight a person is, the more their risk increases over time (file photo)
Researchers, who published their findings Thursday in JAMA Oncology, gathered data from over 10,000 participants for the study. Of the study group, 5,600 had colorectal cancer.
The study was performed over a two-decade period, with height and weight data gathered from as far back as 2003.
Body mass index (BMI) was calculated for each participant every year. The metric is often used as a simple way to calculate what a healthy weight for a person is relative to their height.
Dr Michael Hoffmeister (pictured), co-author of the study, compared being overweight to smoking cigarettes, as it increases a person’s lifetime risk even if they later reverse habits
A BMI over 25 is considered to be overweight, while anything over 40 is considered to be obese.
The researchers found that every point of BMI over 25 a person recorded over the years slightly increased their likelihood of developing colorectal cancer.
Even if a person later got their weight down to a healthy level, the impact the previous weight had on their body will carry on.
Dr Michael Hoffmeister, co-author of the study and deputy division head at the German Cancer Center, told DailyMail.com that it works similarly to how smoking can increase a person’s lifetime risk of lung cancer, even if they later quit tobacco.
‘Our study suggests the excess weight may have a substantially stronger impact on colorectal cancer risk then was disclosed by other studies… just because we used lifetime excess weight,’ he explained.
‘The concept is a little bit similar to smoking, where you count the packs per day smoked over years and… even if this person stops the amount of pack use it would still be there… [the] backpack of excess weight is not gone.’
Why exactly this occurs, and how excess weight plays a role in the development of colorectal cancers is not fully understood by scientists.
The link between being overweight and developing the cancer has long been known, though.
Colorectal cancer is a term that describes cancers of the colon and rectum. It can be detected early by a colonoscopy, which is recommended for Americans over the age of 50 in particular.
Just over 100,000 cases are detected every year in the U.S., and it is responsible for around 45,000 deaths annually, according to the American Cancer Society.
The CDC reports that more than 70 percent of Americans are overweight and more than 40% are obese. Obesity is tied with heart disease, diabetes and other conditions
Hoffmeister notes that these figures have been rising in recent years, corresponding with a sharp rise in the number of Americans that are overweight or obese.
As America continues to struggle with obesity, he believes the rates of colorectal cancer will only get worse.
‘It definitely can increase the rates of colorectal cancer…it has become more prevalent in the past years,’ he said.
‘What we are expecting to see is that when prevalence of overweight and obesity rises we expect to see more cases of colorectal cancer in the future, but it will take a while.’
While a systemic rise of colorectal cancer is expected to strike America in the coming decades, a person struggling with their weight now can still make changes.
Hoffmeister notes that for an obese person, other diseases like heart disease, diabetes, a stroke or even Covid are more likely to pose a risk, and that they should talk to their doctor about better ways to manage and lose weight to reduce their risk.