Cancer: Could losing weight help lower your risk?

As much as we’ve learned about cancer, in some ways, it’s still a mystery. It’s not always predictable — and you can’t always prevent it. But there are important clues about what may help lower your risk. And one of them may be in your bathroom: It’s your scale.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, staying at a healthy weight may be one of the best ways to lower your cancer risk.

The cancer-weight connection.

The causes of cancer are complex. And weight is just one factor. But it appears that having too much body fat may raise the risk of several kinds of cancer. That includes cancers of the:


  • Breast (in some women).
  • Colon and rectum.
  • Endometrium (the lining of the uterus).
  • Esophagus.
  • Gallbladder.
  • Kidney.
  • Liver.
  • Pancreas.
  • Stomach.


Scientists aren’t sure exactly how weight increases cancer risk. But they have a few ideas.

One possibility has to do with inflammation. Normally, when your body is injured, the injured area gets red, swollen and hot. It’s a natural part of the healing process. But if inflammation happens all the time, it may be a problem. Some scientists think that extra body fat may trigger chronic inflammation — which could damage your DNA in ways that may lead to cancer.

Also, fat cells produce high levels of estrogen, which is associated with a higher risk of certain cancers. And fat cells make other hormones that may play a role in cancer risk too.

While there’s still a lot to be learned, if you’re carrying extra pounds, it’s worthwhile to take steps to reach a healthier weight.

2 checks you can do right now.

If you’re not sure you’re at a healthy weight, here are 2 ways that may help you find out.

First, check your body mass index (BMI). BMI is a number based on your height and weight. It helps estimate how much body fat you have. You can find a BMI calculator at

Next, measure your waist size. Fat stored around your middle may be even more likely to increase the risk of some cancers. Place a tape measure just above your hipbones. Relax, breathe out and measure.

What may be cause for concern? For women, 31.5 inches or more. For men, 37 inches or more.

Share your results.

It’s important to have your BMI measured at each visit with your primary doctor — and talk about your numbers. Your doctor is a great resource for advice and help if you want to lose weight.

What to do next

Sources: American Institute for Cancer Research; National Cancer Institute

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be nor should be construed as medical or other advice. Talk to an appropriate health care professional to determine what may be right for you.

Last reviewed October 2017

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