Obesity’s influence on cancer

At present, there are an estimated 7.4 million men and 6.7 million women being diagnosed with cancer worldwide and more than eight million people die from the disease annually.


With specific reference to breast cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRFI) states that globally, more than 1.7 million new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed during 2012. As the most common cancer in women, the causes of breast cancer are mostly unknown but research strongly suggests that women who maintain a healthy weight, are more physically active and do not smoke or drink alcohol have a much lower chance of being diagnosed with the disease.

A smoking gun

Experts predict that in the UK, cancer rates will increase nearly six times faster for women when compared to men, over the next 20 years, with obesity partly to blame. This is because several of the obesity-related cancer types only affect women.

Read more: October is breast cancer awareness month

The New English Journal of England found that as many as two million people out of the seven billion worldwide suffer from health problems such as cancer, as a result of obesity. In one of the largest research studies ever conducted regarding obesity and the health problems it causes, it was determined that obesity is becoming a fast-growing global epidemic. The study looked at 195 countries and has named South African women are the most overweight on the African continent.

In fact, 30% of South African adults and 8.8% of children are overweight. In a recent Netwerk24 online article, Professor Benn Sartorius, an expert researcher in the field of disease and cancer epidemiology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says that many types of cancers are more common in people that are overweight or suffers from obesity; this includes breast cancer after menopause.

Surviving the storm

For WCRFI, survival rates for breast cancer vary worldwide, but rates have improved in general. This is because breast cancer is diagnosed at an earlier and localised stage in nations where populations have access to medical care and progressive improvement in treatment strategies. In many countries with advanced medical care, the five-year survival rate of early stage breast cancers is around 80 to 90%, but the treatments of advanced stages of breast cancer have also improved.

One such example includes a recent Sky News article reporting that research funded by Cancer Research UK enabled scientists to develop a new blood test that can detect changes to tumour DNA, which could lead to life-extending treatments for women with late-stage breast cancer. Although the advancement is still in its earliest stages, scientists hope it could allow doctors to create personalised treatments for women based on the particular development of their illness.

In this same article, Dr Justine Alford, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, states, “The researchers may have developed a way to track breast cancer as it grows, allowing doctors to act swiftly and give patients the treatments that are right for them.”

It is clear that cancer has become a reality of many people’s lives. The fact that cancer does not discriminate against age or gender should serve as ample encouragement to ensure that your clients and their family have comprehensive critical illness cover in place.