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Cancers that are usually found in those over the age of 65 and are considered “obesity-associated” are appearing in younger people, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open. That’s especially troubling news, since 70 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 20 are either overweight or obese according to the National Health and Examination Surveys.

Cancers associated with obesity include cancers of the colon and rectum, breast, uterus, ovary, gallbladder, esophagus, stomach, liver and intrahepatic bile duct, pancreas, kidney and renal pelvis, thyroid, and multiple myeloma.

Dr. Kathleen Egan, epidemiologist.

“Obesity may be as important as smoking as a contributor to overall mortality and cancer, and may even surpass it,” said Moffitt Cancer Center epidemiologist Dr. Kathleen Egan. “Obesity, particularly visceral fat, leads to physiological changes and a range of effects that contribute to cancer, including insulin resistance, chronic inflammation and an unhealthy gut microbiome.”

For this study, researchers broke out the number of cases by specific types of cancer, age, gender and race. Specific types of Obesity-Associated Cancers (OACs) were dramatically higher in some populations and the contrast between the groups was striking, notably: the number of all OACs considered collectively in people aged 50 to 64 increased by 25 percent in non-Hispanic white women and nearly 200 percent in Hispanic men. For non-OACs considered collectively, among non-Hispanic white men aged 50 to 64, the increase was nearly 10 percent, while for Hispanic women, all non-OACs increased by nearly 100 percent.

Some of the greatest increases were observed in uterine cancer among Hispanic women and in liver and thyroid cancers across all populations.

The study is disturbing, but there is a way to avoid an obesity-associated cancer diagnosis.

The best way to beat cancer is to avoid cancer, according to Chantel Griffin-Stampfer, manager of the Moffitt Program for Outreach Wellness and Resources (M-POWER). And that includes eating well and maintaining a healthy weight.

“We encourage the community to stay healthy in a variety of ways,” said Griffin-Stampfer. “Stay hydrated, make a colorful plate, prepare and eat foods that are lean and minimally processed, move your body at least two-and-a-half hours each week and get cancer screenings appropriate to your age.”