Proper energy balance might lower cancer risk in women

Women especially face greater cancer risk when busy lives interfere with diet, exercise

Special to the Herald-LeaderSeptember 19, 2011 

Today's lifestyle often presents daunting challenges for women who are trying to balance family, home and work. Fast-paced schedules and time commitments can lead to the imbalance of diet and physical activity, both of which are factors that can affect the risk of chronic diseases, including many forms of cancer.

"Energy balance" is the complex interaction of diet, physical activity and genetics throughout an individual's life and how the balance of these factors might influence cancer risk. It is estimated that poor diet, physical inactivity and overweight/obesity might account for about 25 percent to 30 percent of several major cancers in the United States. Development of cancer in women with an increased genetic or lifestyle risk might be delayed or prevented by diet modification, physical activity and weight control.

At a time when nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population is considered overweight or obese and is physical inactive during leisure time, compelling evidence exists that excess body weight is a risk factor for many types of cancer diagnosed in women.

Recent studies indicate that being obese or overweight might increase the risk of death from many cancers, accounting for up to 14 percent of cancer deaths in men and 20 percent of cancer deaths in women.

Gaining weight during adult life increases the risk for several cancers, even if the weight gain does not result in being overweight or obese. The risk for postmenopausal breast and uterine cancers in women has been clearly linked to weight gain and highly suggestive in increasing the risk of cervical and ovarian cancer. Higher levels of estrogen stored by the extra fat tissue after menopause can promote the growth and development of estrogen-sensitive cancers of the breast and endometrium.

Excess body fat, especially around the waist, is linked with high insulin levels and/or insulin resistance that might promote the growth of cancer cells. Excess fat also might trigger inflammation throughout the body, which also might encourage cancer growth.

Choosing and adopting the right health behaviors throughout a woman's life can help to delay or prevent cancer, while she serves as a role model for decreasing cancer risk in her family and future generations.

Changing one's lifestyle to balance consumption of a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant sources, maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active can substantially reduce an individual's lifetime risk of developing cancer or of its recurrence.

Betty G. Simms is a Central Baptist Hospital outpatient oncology dietitian.

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