The Cancer Society just had its annual fundraiser. The relatives and cancer survivors get together to raise money for a cure. This year, the diagnosis touched the lives of several people I know.
When a patient is concerned with “taking medications” to lower their insulin resistance and lose weight, to stop their cravings and frequent thoughts of food…I like to point out that the most toxic, cancer-causing substance is already in the bloodstream of a person who struggles with weight. We just don’t know it or don’t like to think about it.
Whether its Insulin itself, with its propensity to make things grow, or Tumor Necrosis Factor, or IL-6, there are a myriad of inflammatory substances that our own bodies make when we’re overweight that can increase significantly our risk for cancer. Should we worry so much about BPA and pesticides and yet ignore our own bodies turning against us?
Many years ago, I attended a conference in London given by SCOPE, the English version of our OBESITY SOCIETY. The topic was Cancer and Overweight. They presented studies comparing weight loss to chemotherapy to decrease recurrence after breast cancer. The recurrence rate was lowest in the patients who lost weight. It actually beat Chemotherapy!
As an Internist I had been tasked with telling my patient that they had cancer, I could not imagine at that time, that the sentence following “I’m so sorry, it’s Cancer” would be: “I’m recommending you lose weight as soon as possible.”
Fear is of course a great motivator, but I felt that the connections the patient would make between their weight and the cancer would lead to negative feelings of self-blame. I stood up in London and told them that obviously they, as researchers had never had to give a patient the news that they had cancer. The whole room erupted to educate me on the statistics I knew already too well. If a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, the single most important factor in her survival will be determined by weight loss.
In those without cancer the numbers should be widely known, yet they’re not. A study involving 900,000 subjects (No cancer at baseline) for more than 15 years, showed those with a BMI of 40 or greater (Obesity) had 50-60% higher death rates from cancer. That's a staggering statistic. The Million Women Study showed an increased incidence of breast cancer (in post menopausal women), endometrial cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma as well as cancer of colon, esophagus, liver, pancreas and kidney.
I have since understood why this whole conversation seemed so ill-timed to me. Because it is! Hopefully, we never have to tell a newly diagnosed woman with cancer, that she needs to lose weight to save her life.
Let’s talk prevention! Let’s talk about weight loss to avoid having the cancer conversation. Let’s talk about weight loss before the glucose rises and pre-diabetes is diagnosed, before depression hits. Let’s say it with the same conviction we say “stop smoking, smoking kills!” Let’s shout it from the rooftops!
Let’s end the weight stigma and truly help the 80% of Americans with an unhealthy BMI to turn things around before any life changing diagnosis.