Doctors, Dietitians Stand Behind Fat/Cancer Link

Thinking about eating that extra slice of bacon for breakfast? Think again, cancer experts say.

A new study released today by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund finds convincing evidence that excess body fat as well as consumption of alcohol, red meat and processed meats like bacon increase your risk of developing cancer.

The report, titled "Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective," says that excess weight increases your risk of developing six different cancers. It also contains stringent guidelines regarding weight, diet and exercise to help reduce that risk.

"The news and conclusions are important because they help confront the view that cancer risk is something we don't control," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. "In my experience, patients tend to recognize that they can control their heart disease risk, but they think of cancer as a bogeyman that pounces from the shadows … that isn't so.

"Along with avoiding tobacco, weight control and certain dietary adjustments offer powerful means of reducing risk for many, perhaps most cancers."

And although this link between obesity and cancer is not new, the new report adds a wealth of data to the existing research and condenses more than 7,000 different research papers into one comprehensive statement.

"What's new about this report is that a panel of distinguished scientists from around that world reviewed findings from multiple studies, and when we added them all together we found that excess body fat increases risk of developing cancer," said Dr. Steven Zeisel, director of the Nutrition Research Institute at the University of North Carolina and expert on the AICR panel.

Specifically, researchers found convincing evidence that excess body fat increases risk for colon, kidney, pancreatic and postmenopausal breast cancer as well as cancer of the esophagus and endometrium.

Not only do experts recommend that people stay within the healthy weight range throughout adult life, but they further stipulate that people should stay as lean as possible within that range. Avoiding energy-dense foods that are high in fat, such as burgers, french fries and milkshakes, as well as exercising at least 30 minutes each day, can help.

"We analyzed over 500 studies and found that it is highly probable that being fat increases your risk of developing a number of cancers," said Zeisel. "Every increment of being leaner reduces your cancer risk."

Other Factors Still at Play

However, experts do warn that people should not take this message to the extreme.

"I wouldn't want people to get obsessed about having as little body fat as humanly possible," said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y. "There's still room for some favorites and even some treat food -- it should just be less often and in smaller amounts. I'm still going to have my ounce of dark chocolate every day."

Experts also emphasize that smoking, not diet, is the primary risk factor that people can address to reduce their cancer risk.

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