Pancreatic Cancer Cells

The Obesity Pandemic Brings Cancer to Youth

In the latest issue of Obesity, Nathan Berger provides a very clear picture of how obesity is bringing cancer into a younger population. He assembles evidence from more than 100 publications to demonstrate that 13 types of malignancies are shifting into younger age groups.

Cancers Linked to Obesity

Accelerating Progression

Berger examines more than just the epidemiology that links 13 cancers to obesity. In his review, he synthesizes basic and clinical research to explain the mechanisms that lead from obesity to malignancies. Not only does obesity serve to increase the risk, he says. But it also accelerates the process.

Malignancies show up earlier. And they appear in a more aggressive form. Living with obesity brings epigenetic changes that add risk. Metabolic changes, growth factors, and hormones can help some cancer cells thrive. Changes in gut microbes can favor species that also serve to promote cancer.

Because multiple mechanisms are working in parallel, the risks accumulate. “Even if one pathway is successfully blocked, obesity-induced cancer takes another path,” says Berger.

Better Care for Obesity Early in Life

Berger says that all of this points to one thing. We face an impending explosion in obesity-related cancers in young adults.

Because obesity early in life can have a lasting effect on cancer risks, we need to offer a better response to childhood obesity. Right now, parents and children can expect little in the way of effective help with serious obesity at a young age. Resources for family-based programs are limited. For five million children and youth with severe obesity, we have fewer than 50 centers offering comprehensive childhood obesity care programs.

Already, we’ve seen the consequences of inadequate obesity care, as type 2 diabetes is growing explosively into younger populations. Continuing to neglect the need for better options is now starting to bring a growing burden of cancer. Neglect is costly.

Click here for Berger’s review and here for more from Case Western Reserve.

Pancreatic Cancer Cells, photograph © NIH Image Gallery / flickr

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March 28, 2018