Obesity and Esophageal Cancer: Understanding the Link & Prevention

Obesity and Esophageal Cancer: Understanding the Link & Prevention

Obesity is one of the biggest health concerns for the American population. The latest CDC statistics suggest that 100.1 million (41.9%) adults in the country are obese. The problem also affects the younger population, with 14.7 million (19.7%) children battling with weight issues. The numbers are disconcerting as they indicate high disease prevalence and hefty healthcare costs.

The worst part is that obesity is more than a health condition by itself. It increases the risk of severe health issues, from high cholesterol to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and even cancer. If you carry those extra pounds and inches, it is time to take your health more seriously.

Studies have established a clear link between obesity and cancer, with uterine, breast, kidney, colorectal, pancreatic, and esophageal cancers being the most common consequences. Esophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of global cancer deaths and has a  five-year survival rate of only 20%.

Awareness about the disease and its link with your body weight can help you understand your risks and take a preventive approach. Let us explain the key facts to cover both areas.

Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer starts in the surface cells or the cells of the mucus glands within the esophagus. A patient may experience symptoms like trouble swallowing (dysphagia), chest pain, chronic cough, hoarseness, fatigue, vomiting, esophageal bleeding, and weight loss due to the condition. 

The exact causes are unclear, but anything that irritates your esophagus chronically can be a potential risk factor. Here are the potential risk factors to be aware of:

  • Smoking and alcohol
  • Unhealthy dietary habits
  • Obesity
  • Age: 45-70 is the high-risk age
  • Gender: Males are more prone than females
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Barrett’s esophagus (a condition related to chronic acid reflux)

Obesity, Inflammation, and Esophageal Cancer

Among the aforementioned risk factors, obesity emerges as a prominent one. Several studies confirm that abdominal, visceral obesity can cause Barrett’s esophagus, gastroesophageal reflux, and esophageal adenocarcinoma. 

With this, the link between esophageal cancer and obesity becomes a bigger concern as the condition contributes to other risks. How does being obese make you prone to the disease? 

The answers are still not available, but there are two possibilities here:

  • Inflammation 

Inflammation is the primary cause of people with obesity being more likely to have esophageal cancer, so it is crucial to understand the inflammatory mechanism. Visceral fat cells (which cause excess fat in the body) are large and numerous. 

They hardly leave room for oxygen, and the low-oxygen environment triggers inflammation. With visceral fat, the inflammation becomes chronic and elevates the risk for cancer. 

  • High Estrogen Levels 

Research indicates that estrogen can stimulate many tumor cells, leading to the growth of cancer. It happens because the hormone leads to an increase in cell production in the body, which is how cancer may develop. 

Fat cells produce estrogen, so obese people often have more of it in their systems. It translates into a high risk of cancer down the line.

A Preventive Approach 

Weight management is the best way to lower the risk of obesity-related esophageal cancer. Lifestyle changes may help, but some people may need a more aggressive approach with surgical measures. Here are a few measures you can adopt for effective risk management:

  • Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Healthy lifestyle changes are the best way to deal with obesity and reduce the related risks. These include eating a balanced diet, staying active, and avoiding culprits such as sugar, smoking, and alcohol. Adequate sleep also helps with weight management. Anything that causes inflammation should not be a part of your life.

  • Surgical Intervention 

Although lifestyle changes are effective, they may not work for every patient. Bariatric surgery is an ideal solution when you fail to manage weight with healthy habits alone. The surgical procedure is safe and effective and dramatically reduces cancer risk. Gastric bypass surgery helps with acid reflux, which is one of the causes of esophageal cancer.

Summing Up

Obesity is a silent killer that affects your health in the most unexpected ways. Beyond putting you at risk of lifestyle diseases, it can also lead to something even more serious, like esophageal cancer. Fortunately, you can address the risk with an effective weight management strategy.

While lifestyle changes are essential for obese people, you may need a more aggressive approach to lower the risk. Bariatric surgery can be a savior because it helps with weight reduction and resolves the acid reflux problem. A specialist can recommend the best solution according to your needs and situation.