Body Weight and Cancer Risk

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What does the American Cancer Society recommend?

To help lower your risk of cancer

As part of its nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer prevention, the American Cancer Society recommends that people try to get to and stay at a healthy weight throughout life. The best way to stay at a healthy body weight is to balance how much you eat with how active you are. If you are overweight, the best way to get to a healthy body weight is to limit the calories you take in, and burn more calories through physical activity.

You can lower the number of calories that you take in by eating smaller amounts of food (smaller portion sizes); limiting between-meal snacks; and limiting foods and drinks that are high in calories, fat, and/or added sugars, and that provide few nutrients. Fried foods, cookies, cakes, candy, ice cream, and regular soft drinks should be replaced with vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, and lower calorie beverages.

The American Cancer Society recommends that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week. Children and teens should get at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous intensity activity each day, with vigorous activity on at least 3 days each week.

It’s also important to limit your sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, watching TV, and other forms of screen-based entertainment. Doing some physical activity above usual activities, no matter what one’s level of activity, can have many health benefits.

Along with helping you get to or stay at a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and increasing your physical activity may have their own health benefits, including lowering your risk of cancer.

For people already diagnosed with cancer

More and more evidence suggests that being overweight or obese raises the risk of cancer coming back after treatment and may lower the chances of survival for many cancers. Both during and after cancer treatment, people should try to get to and stay at a healthy weight whenever possible.

Some cancer survivors can be malnourished and underweight when they are diagnosed or as a result of cancer treatment. These people may need help gaining or maintaining their weight. But many people are overweight or obese when they are diagnosed with cancer. These people may want to talk with their doctor about trying to lose modest amounts of weight during treatment, as long as it is monitored closely and does not affect treatment. Safe weight loss should be achieved through a well-balanced diet and increased physical activity tailored to the specific needs of the person being treated.

After cancer treatment, weight should be managed with both dietary and physical activity strategies. One way to help get to a healthy weight is by reducing calorie intake. This can be done by eating lower-calorie foods (such as vegetables, fruits, and soups, and cooked whole grains), limiting your intake of fat and sugars, and limiting portion sizes – especially of high-calorie foods. Increased physical activity is also important in promoting weight loss, and in keeping weight off. Even if an ideal weight is not reached, it’s likely that any weight loss will still have health benefits.


Last Medical Review: 01/30/2013
Last Revised: 01/30/2013