How Is Obesity Related to Colorectal Cancer?

People who are obese are about 30 times more likely to develop colorectal cancer than people who are of average weight, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Almost 37% of adult Americans are obese, placing many at risk of developing colorectal cancer, which is the fourth most commonly diagnosed form of cancer. In 2012, 3.5% of new cancer cases in men and 9.5% in women were attributed to being overweight or obese, according to a worldwide population-based study.

What is colorectal cancer?

The colon is another name for the large intestine, and the rectum is the last four to six inches of the colon, ending when it reaches the short, narrow passage that leads to the anus. Cancer inside the colon (colon cancer) and cancer inside the rectum (rectal cancer) are often referred to together as “colorectal cancer.” Colon cancer can appear anywhere in the colon, which is roughly 5 feet long.

Colon and rectal cancer share a lot of the same symptoms, including:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pains
  • Red, black, or dark-colored stools
  • Fatigue or feeling week

Approximately 135,000 cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed each year. It is of particular concern for adults over the age of 50.

What’s the Connection Between Obesity and Colorectal Cancer?

While researchers are not entirely sure why obesity increases the risk of colorectal cancer, they have some possible explanations. The first has to do with inflammation. Obese adults often have low levels of inflammation, which can lead to cancer. Obese people are also more likely to have health conditions associated with inflammation, such as ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel condition that increases the risk for colorectal cancer, no matter what your weight is.

Secondly, there is the insulin factor. Obese people have higher levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1, or IGF-1, in their blood, which may promote colorectal cancer. Insulin and IGF-1 are closely associated with diabetes, which is much more likely to occur in someone who is obese. A third possible explanation is that fat cells produce adipokines, which are hormones that have been linked to promoting the growth of cancer cells.

Secondary factors that may play a role include the fact that people who are obese usually eat less healthy diets that are high in fat and red meat. Studies have shown red meat to be a risk factor for colorectal cancer.

Of course, not every obese person will have colorectal cancer. Whether or not you develop colorectal cancer is most likely due to a range of factors, of which obesity is only one. If you have been experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer, it’s important you see a gastroenterologist as soon as you can.

Contact Us

If you’re concerned about your weight and how it might connect to colorectal cancer, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Fortunately, the team at Gastro Care LI understands your concerns and we can help answer your questions and prevent, diagnose, and treat a wide range of conditions.

Our knowledgeable and compassionate team is ready to help you, so schedule an appointment with us by calling (516) 265-7049 or by reaching out to us online today.