Our modern, busy lifestyles can often cause us to let our health fall to the wayside. Eating right, exercising regularly and watching our weight end up becoming less of a priority, and we put ourselves at risk of obesity and the health consequences that come with it. This is a growing concern not only for adults, but it’s also becoming a trend in young adults and children. Children are showing signs historically associated with age, primarily the fatty composites, known as atherosclerotic plaques, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as Type 2 Diabetes.
Very few people, however, realize that obesity also increases the risk of many common cancers. In fact, hundreds of studies have identified obesity as a major risk factor for many cancers, including breast cancer. A 2012 report linked more than 40,000 cancer diagnoses and 15 -20 percent of all cancer-related deaths to obesity and being overweight.
“Obesity is quickly overtaking tobacco as the leading modifiable risk factor for cancer,” said Dr. Clifford Hudis, Chairman of BCRF’s Scientific Advisory Board. “At the core of the issue is an unprecedented shift in human physiology. We need to understand the consequences of the growing rates of obesity] on cancer incidence and outcomes, and be ready for them.”
As 2013-2014 ASCO President, Dr. Hudis, along with Dr. Jennifer Ligibel of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, forged ASCO’s Initiative on Obesity, a multi-pronged approach to address the issue of obesity as it relates to cancer by promoting increased education and awareness, research and access to proven interventions.
ASCO views a cancer diagnosis as an opportunity for oncologists to motivate patients to make healthy lifestyle changes that can improve not only their cancer outcome but also quality of life for years to come. Research has shown that obesity is associated with poorer cancer outcomes after a diagnosis of many cancers, including breast, and this can be exacerbated by cancer treatments that cause weight gain.
To tackle this issue, ASCO has laid out a strategy that involves:
Earlier this year, ASCO released Obesity and Cancer: A Guide for Oncology Providers and a patient companion piece, Managing your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis: A Guide for Patients and Families, to help put their plans into action. The booklets include information on lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and address the challenges patients may face in reaching and maintaining weight loss goals during and after cancer treatment.
More recently, ASCO hosted a summit on “Advancing Obesity Clinical Trials in Cancer Survivors” to discuss how to conduct research that could lead to evidence-based policy changes in prevention, intervention and insurance to reduce the impact of obesity on cancer outcomes and recurrence. Participants included scientists, advocates and representatives from governmental and non-profit funders of cancer research as well as public payers.
It was a first step—a think tank—in changing not only how we study the relationship between obesity and cancer, but how we talk about the issue. In order to reverse the trend of obesity and its many health-related consequences, Congress and the public have to acknowledge it as a public health emergency, as was the case with tobacco 50 years ago.
With nearly 35,000 members around the globe, ASCO is well positioned to lead this charge, and BCRF is is offering its support as a committed partner. In 2014 alone, we are funding 11 studies that will help us to understand the biology of obesity and breast cancer, as well as interventions to reduce obesity and its harmful effects in breast cancer patients.
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