People with obesity and heart diseases at higher risk of cancer

Large study finds that people living with overweight or obesity as well as cardiovascular diseases are more likely to develop cancer.

23 November 2023

People with a high body mass index who also have cardiovascular (heart) disease have a much higher risk of cancer, a new study funded by World Cancer Research Fund has found.

In the largest study of its kind, our researcher Dr Heinz Freisling, Cancer Epidemiologist at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, found that people who are living with overweight, obesity and cardiovascular diseases (such as a stroke) are more likely to develop cancer. These findings show that preventing obesity could lower the cancer risk of people who also have cardiovascular diseases.

This study gathered multinational data from more than 577,000 adults in the UK Biobank and the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohorts, and investigated the association between body mass index (BMI), cardiometabolic diseases and cardiovascular diseases. Previous research focused on cancer risk within general populations.

Obesity linked with many cancers

One of the biggest risk factors for cancer is living with overweight and obesity and we have strong evidence that this increases the risk of developing several types of cancer, including bowel, breast and liver cancers. World Cancer Research Fund’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations include:

Dr Freisling said:

For so long, research has focused solely on how BMI affects cancer risk for the general population. However this study has separated the risks into specific groups of people with cardiovascular diseases and cardiometabolic diseases, further showing the risk that living with overweight and obesity can have on cancer.

This is a step in the right direction, but more research needs to be done to help provide further useful insights into how body weight influences cancer risk.

As well as the evidence in our Global Cancer Update Programme on obesity and cancer risk, we are funding new research into this vital area, such as Dr Pekka Keski-Rahkonen’s project on understanding the link between colorectal cancer and obesity through metabolic profiling and Ms Lene Mellemkjær’s project on body composition and risk of obesity-related cancers.

Dr Helen Croker, Assistant Director of Research and Policy at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

We already know that obesity is an important risk factor for cancer, but these striking findings show that the risk differs depending on whether people also have cardiovascular disease. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight can offer even greater benefits for particular groups.


Notes to editors

For more information and media enquiries contact: Marianne Kellner, PR & Media Officer, World Cancer Research Fund at / 07717131883

> Read more about Dr Freisling’s research

About World Cancer Research Fund

World Cancer Research Fund examines how diet, nutrition, body weight and physical activity affect your risk of developing and surviving cancer. As part of an international network of charities, we have been funding life-saving research, influencing global public health policy, and educating the public since 1982. While society continues searching for a cure, our prevention and survival work is helping people live longer, happier, healthier lives – free from the devastating effects of cancer. Twitter/X, Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn.

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