Excess body weight and obesity--the link with gastrointestinal and hepatobiliary cancer

Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2011 Apr;8(4):224-38. doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2011.23. Epub 2011 Mar 8.


Excess body weight (EBW) is an independent risk factor for many human malignancies, including cancers throughout the gastrointestinal and hepatobiliary tract from the esophagus to the colorectum. The relative risk of gastrointestinal cancer in obese individuals is approximately 1.5-2.0 times that for normal weight individuals, with organ-specific and gender-specific differences for specific cancers. The association between EBW and risk of premalignant stages of gastrointestinal carcinogenesis, such as colorectal adenoma and Barrett esophagus, is similar, implying a role for EBW during the early stages of carcinogenesis that could be relevant to preventative strategies. EBW also impacts negatively on gastrointestinal cancer outcomes. The mechanistic basis of the association between EBW and carcinogenesis remains incompletely understood. Postulated mechanisms include increased insulin and insulin-like growth factor signaling and chronic inflammation (both linked to the metabolic syndrome), as well as signaling via adipokines, such as leptin. The role of obesity-related changes in the intestinal microbiome in gastrointestinal carcinogenesis deserves further attention. Whether weight loss leads to reduced future gastrointestinal and liver cancer risk has yet to be fully explored. There is some support for the idea that weight loss negatively regulates colorectal carcinogenesis. In addition, data suggest a reduction in risk of several cancers in the first 10 years after bariatric surgery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Liver Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors