Being overweight as an adult lowers your chance of surviving after a cancer diagnosis

The longer you are overweight as an adult (aged 20-50) the more likely you are to not survive after being diagnosed with breast or bowel cancer. Every year spent overweight increases the risk as well as how overweight you are

A new study funded by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) looked at over 47,000 women in Sweden between the ages of 29 and 49, 1,500 of whom went on to develop breast or bowel cancer. The findings show that being overweight has a long-lasting effect on health; previous studies have already shown being overweight increases the risk of cancer, and now this study confirms it also increases the chance of dying after a cancer diagnosis.

The study found that women increase their risk of an early death after being diagnosed with (post-menopausal) breast cancer by three per cent for every year they are overweight as an adult. This increase in the risk of dying is seen for all cancer stages meaning that it is also observed for women with early stage breast cancer. And for bowel cancer, the risk of early death increases by 4 per cent for every year spent overweight.

One of the researchers of the study, Dr Isabelle Soerjomataram from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said: “While previous studies have shown an association between being overweight and developing cancer, very little is known about how being overweight impacts your chances of surviving cancer.

“Our research shows that effective prevention of overweight and obesity must start at an early age.”

Dr Anna Diaz Font, Head of Research Funding at WCRF, said: “This study followed a large group of women for a long time, and gives us some new insight on how duration and intensity of overweight can affect future cancer survival.

“For cancer prevention and survival it is best to maintain a healthy weight, however, we recognise that the government have a role to play in making our daily environments healthier, so that it is easier to make healthy choices. This includes the availability, affordability and acceptability of healthy diets and exercise.”

The researchers highlighted some reasons why being overweight at a young age increases the risk of cancer such as increased risk and severity of insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, DNA damage and alterations in hormone metabolism – all of which are associated with the onset of cancer.

Dr Soerjomataram concluded that, “Today we have further confirmed the positive impact of overweight and obesity prevention, which will improve the lives of people living with cancer by increasing survival of major cancers such as breast and bowel cancers.”

For more information and media enquiries contact: Maxine Lenza, Press and Communications Officer at WCRF on 020 7343 4235 or

Notes to editors:

Funded by WCRF’s Netherlands office, Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds.

About World Cancer Research Fund:

World Cancer Research Fund is part of a network of cancer charities with a global reach, dedicated to the prevention of cancer and survival through a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and being more physically active. We cut through the jargon to turn the latest global research on cancer prevention and survival into practical, straightforward advice and information, helping anyone who wants to reduce their risk of developing cancer to make fully informed lifestyle choices.

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About International Agency for Research on Cancer:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization. The objective of the IARC is to promote international collaboration in cancer research.

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