Online tool shows global scale of obesity-related cancer

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

“Obesity has become the new major discussion about the causes of diseases in various populations," said IARC scientist Dr Isabelle Soerjomataram, who was involved in the project. (image: iStock.com)
“Obesity has become the new major discussion about the causes of diseases in various populations," said IARC scientist Dr Isabelle Soerjomataram, who was involved in the project. (image: iStock.com)

Related tags Obesity Body mass index Cancer Snack functional beverage beverage

The impact of obesity on cancer rates across the world – and how many cases could have been prevented – is made clear with an online data tool, launched by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) last month.

Based on data previously published in the Lancet Oncology Journal, the tool shows the extent​ to which the number of cancer cases in 2012 could have been prevented if obesity rates, measured using body mass index (BMI) values, had remained unchanged since 1982.

Users can filter the data according to cancer type, country and sex.

With 42,412 preventable cases, North America tops the charts with more than double the number of cases in Latin America and the Caribbean (17, 153).

northern eu iarc

Northern and Western Europe hold fourth and fifth places globally, with 9,640 and 9,605 cases respectively.

The UK can make the unenviable claim of being leader in its group, responsible for a massive 68% of obesity-related cancer cases in Northern Europe, of which 80% could have been prevented.

‘A unique tool’

Dr Isabelle Soerjomataram, IARC scientist who was involved in the project, told FoodNavigator of the tool’s significance. “Obesity has become the new major discussion about the causes of diseases in various populations. Yet it has a varied impact on different cancer sites, on different countries or regions, and also different impact in men or in women,” ​she said.

“This tool helps visualise these different impacts, as such increasing our understanding of the relation between obesity and different cancer sites, in various settings or population groups. It also helps to design and target interventions for those who are most affected by obesity and cancers related to obesity.

eu women
For Western European women, 37% of obesity-related post menopausal breast cancer could have been prevented. 

She said what made the tool unique was the preventability estimate. “This last indicator provides an achievable goal for various populations to act in order to prevent rising obesity rates.” 

The user-friendly and easily accessible nature of the tool means that it can be used by everyone, said Soerjomataram, from researchers and policy makers who are planning health strategies to any member of the general public interested in health.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) International says there is “sufficient scientific evidence”​ of a causal link between obesity and cancers of the colon, rectum, kidney, pancreas, gallbladder, postmenopausal breast, corpus uteri, and ovary. According to IARC, this evidence is “convincing”.

Source: Lancet Oncology

First published online 26 November 2014, doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(14)71123-4

Global burden of cancer attributable to high body-mass index in 2012: a population-based study”

Authors: Arnold M, Pandeya N, Byrnes G, Renehan AG, Stevens GA, Ezzati M, et al. 

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