Excess body weight (overweight and obesity) is characterized by chronic hyperinsulinaemia and insulin resistance, and is implicated both in cancer risk and cancer mortality. The list of cancers at increased risk of development in an "obesogenic" environment include common adult cancers such as endometrium, post-menopausal breast, colon and kidney, but also less common malignancies such as leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The pathophysiological and biological mechanisms underpinning these associations are only starting to be understood. Insulin resistance is at the heart of many, but there are several other candidate systems including insulin-like growth factors, sex steroids, adipokines, obesity-related inflammatory markers, the nuclear factor kappa beta (NF-kappa B) system and oxidative stresses. With such as diversity of obesity-related cancers, it is unlikely that there is a "one system fits all" mechanism. While public health strategies to curb the spread of the obesity epidemic appear ineffective, there is a need to better understand the processes linking obesity and cancer as a pre-requisite to the development of new approaches to the prevention and treatment of obesity-related cancers.