The Northwest’s top health concern mirrors the rest of America
By Clayton Holtzman, Hutchinson Center science writer
Here in the Northwest, where we take pride in being actively engaged with our beautiful natural surroundings, there’s a growing health issue no one can afford to ignore: Smoking, you say? The lack of Vitamin D? Cancer, perhaps?
The obesity epidemic that is gripping America is now the top public health concern among the majority of Puget Sound adults polled in a recent survey by Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, the treatment arm of the Hutchinson Center.
With obesity linked to diabetes, heart disease and other conditions, and two-thirds of American adults now classified as obese or overweight by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is no exaggeration to call obesity a public health crisis.
A growing body of research also is showing us that obesity is strongly associated with cancer risk, which has given health experts pause that science could lose momentum in its fight against cancer.
This is one of the reasons why several of our researchers are studying these obesity-cancer links. Last year, Dr. Anne McTiernan, director of our Center’s Cancer Prevention Program, put the obesity epidemic within a cancer-related context: “Obesity is almost like the new smoking,” McTiernan told the Los Angeles Times. “The effect isn’t as big for most cancers, but it’s so prevalent that it will have a huge impact.”
In recent years, Hutchinson Center researchers have linked, or are studying the relationship between, obesity and a host of cancers:
- Abdominal obesity is a strong risk factor for Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition, according to research by Dr. Thomas Vaughan.
- The Center is the coordinating hub for the Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer, or TREC study, which is studying the link between obesity and colorectal cancer.
- Obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption all significantly increase the risk of second breast cancers among survivors, according to research by Dr. Christopher Li.
- Researchers have discovered that obesity is associated with an 80 percent increase in the risk of high-grade, aggressive prostate cancer.
- The National Cancer Institute considers obesity so important that it recently extended the Hutchinson Center’s role by five years as the coordinating hub of a nationwide consortium studying obesity’s link to cancer.
“This investment reflects the urgency of the problem and the need to accelerate scientific progress to inform cancer-control strategies,” said Dr. Robert Croyle, director of the NCI’s division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.