Understanding the link between cancer and obesity

Manchester researchers were among the first to prove the link between obesity and cancer. With global obesity rates rising, their focus now is on prevention and improving cancer survival rates.

Global problem: a growing health issue

Obesity is the second biggest cause of preventable cancer in the UK after smoking, contributing to approximately 18,100 cases of cancer every year. More than 60% of UK adults are classified as overweight or obese and 20% of year 6 children are placed in the same category. These rising figures are in line with trends across the world and represent a serious global public health problem.

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Manchester: highlighting the hidden cancer risks

Manchester researchers were among the first to demonstrate the link between excess weight and cancer, specifically that obesity is directly linked to 13 different types of the disease. University experts also demonstrated that obesity is now the second biggest cause of cancer globally and that increased weight in childhood is linked with increased risk of cancer.

This knowledge now forms the basis of cancer prevention and treatments used by public health professionals and clinicians working on obesity prevention.

Professor Andrew Renehan, Professor of Cancer Studies and Surgery at the University and lead for the Obesity and Cancer sub-theme at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre and Manchester Cancer Research Centre, is responsible for internationally-rated research that has made a substantial contribution to understanding more about the link between obesity and cancer.

“We demonstrated the potential harm of excess body fat, proving the link between the now 13 recognised obesity-related cancers. We also demonstrated this link, even from an early age, showing that increased weight in children aged 7 to 13 years is linked with increased risk of bowel cancer later in life."

Andrew Renehan / Professor of Cancer Studies and Surgery

“We demonstrated the potential harm of excess body fat, proving the link between the now 13 recognised obesity-related cancers. We also demonstrated this link, even from an early age, showing that increased weight in children aged 7 to 13 years is linked with increased risk of bowel cancer later in life.”

Professor Renehan also looked at the scale of the link between obesity and cancer on a global level. He found that if the weight of populations worldwide were the same as those recorded in 1982, half a million new cancer cases would be avoided each year.

Research podcast

In this podcast, Professor Andrew Renehan talks about his research which proved the link between cancer and obesity. He examines the extent of this growing global health problem, the barriers facing the research community in getting the messages accepted and outlines why he believes obesity can represent a health inequality.

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Life-changing impacts

The University of Manchester’s research has helped to:

  • prove the link between obesity and cancer;
  • demonstrate the potential harm of excess body fat, even from an early age, with increased weight in childhood (aged 7 to 13 years) linked to increased risk of bowel cancer later in life;
  • pioneer the next stage of learning about cancer and obesity, including how best to manage obese patients with cancer through treatment to ensure better survival rates;
  • provide the evidence base for cancer prevention and treatment, taken up by public health professionals and clinicians across the globe when trying to prevent obesity in the population;
  • manage obese patients with cancer through treatment to ensure better survival rates.

Find out more

Meet the researcher