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Study finds unexpected link between weight loss and cancer risk

Diabetes drugs used in weight-loss therapies may come with a risk of stomach paralysis, pancreatitis and bowel obstruction, a study by the University of British Columbia found.

HQ Team

March 4, 2024: Obesity is widely recognized as a risk factor for cancer, and a recent study sheds light on an unexpected finding: significant weight loss may actually be associated with a higher risk of cancer in the following year.

Research shows that obesity has very severe outcomes and is implicated in at least 13 different types of cancer, contributing to up to 9% of all cancer cases in regions like North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Given this concerning connection, weight management is increasingly recognized as a critical health goal.

A recent study, drawing on data from nearly 160,000 health professionals tracked over an average of 28 years, reveals a surprising twist. Contrary to expectations, individuals who underwent significant weight loss, defined as more than 10% of their body weight, were found to have a notably higher risk of cancer diagnoses in the subsequent 12 months compared to those who had not lost weight.

Unexpected weight loss

The study classified participants into three groups based on the intentionality of their weight loss efforts: high, medium, and low. Strikingly, the risk of cancer following weight loss was particularly pronounced among individuals classified as having low intentionality for weight loss. Notably, the study identified a strong association between weight loss and cancers of the upper digestive system, liver, pancreas, and bile ducts, with risks increasing between three to over seven times. The link was weaker for colorectal and lung cancer, though, and didn’t seem to affect the likelihood of getting breast, prostate and cancers that affect just women.

Limitations of study

Despite these significant findings, the study authors acknowledge certain limitations. Reliance on self-reported weight data and biennial check-ins with participants may introduce inaccuracies, and the predominantly US-based sample of health professionals might not be fully representative of the general population. Nonetheless, the study underscores the importance of investigating unintended weight loss, especially in cases where there is minimal effort to lose weight.

This unexpected link between weight loss and increased cancer risk highlights the necessity for healthcare professionals to consider specific cancer types, such as those affecting the upper digestive system and liver, when evaluating unexplained weight loss in patients. By identifying potential underlying cancers early, healthcare providers can initiate timely interventions and improve outcomes for affected individuals.



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