Obesity is not only a root cause of diabetes and hypertension, but it is also one of the reasons for cancers of the large intestine, upper food pipe, kidneys and pancreas. Alarmingly, obesity is also on the rise due to unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyles. Most times, it can be traced back to childhood where food habits are first instilled, explains Dr Krishna Mohan M.V.T, senior consultant medical oncologist at Basavatarakam Indo American Cancer Hospital and Research Institute.
Why are we now seeing obesity related cancers on the rise?
Poor food and lifestyle habits are leading to obesity. These food habits are incorporated in the genes which are then passed on to successive generations with some modifications, thus increasing their risk in the future. There are other risk factors too, but body weight even in the range of ‘overweight’ can significantly contribute to cancer genesis.
Many health checkups reveal that 60 per cent of the people have grade 1 or grade 2 fatty liver. Is this a marker for calculating obesity?
Fatty liver means that there is fat accumulation in the liver. It is generally associated with obesity, diabetes, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and high blood pressure. On its own, fatty liver doesn’t cause cancer, but people with fatty liver tend to be obese or overweight and are thus, at risk for developing obesity related cancers. However, fatty liver can be reversed with lifestyle modifications and medicines.
Is pancreatic cancer due to obesity?
Obesity is one of the risk factors for pancreatic cancer. Many people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have diabetes or excessive body mass index.
With many under 50-year-olds getting affected by obesity related cancer, what are some of the preventive steps to be taken at the individual, community and social level?
There are only a few modifiable risk factors for cancer and obesity is one of them. The awareness of body weight and obesity is increasing, but the message should penetrate deep in the society. Awareness at an individual level is possible but corrective measures need repetition and reinforcement. It should be taught in schools, repeated in colleges and reminded at workplaces to have an impact.
Obese people often complain that no amount of exercise or diet helps them lose weight. What must they do?
Corrective measures start with awareness of body, weight and food. Cooking methods need to change. An active lifestyle and diet modifications are the key to losing weight but must be continuously followed. Bariatric surgeries have yielded satisfactory results in cancer reduction, but losing weight naturally is the best way. Even a 10 per cent loss in body weight is found to substantially reduce the risk of cancer.
Can these cancers be diagnosed early?
Obesity related cancers can be diagnosed early provided doctors look for it. There are no symptoms initially. Gastric regurgitations in an obese individual leads to a condition called “Barret’s Esophagus”, which is a forerunner of esophagus cancer. It can be made out through an endoscopy and corrective actions can be taken. Similarly, bowel disturbances, if persisting for a long time, should be addressed in order to screen for colon or rectal cancers. A Serum PSA test can trace prostate cancer. Bleeding after menopause is also a symptom to check for malignancy in the uterine region.
How can the quality of life post treatment be better instead of being a challenge?
Early detection is the key. Studies have shown that obese patients treated with cancer had more problems coping with the treatment and rehabilitation when compared to non-obese people. Apart from cancer management, management of obesity in these patients is also very important for better quality of life.