Gender Differences in Obesity-Related Cancers

Curr Obes Rep. 2021 Jun;10(2):100-115. doi: 10.1007/s13679-021-00426-0. Epub 2021 Feb 1.


Purpose of review: In this review, we summarize the role of obesity in carcinogenesis, providing details on specific cancer sites. Special emphasis is given to gender differences in obesity-related cancers and on the effect of bariatric surgery on cancer risk.

Recent findings: Accumulating evidence has highlighted the detrimental role of overweight/obesity in cancer, with almost 55% of cancers diagnosed in women and 24% diagnosed in men considered overweight- and obesity-related cancers. Sufficient data have shown that higher BMI is associated with risk of gynecologic malignancies (mainly breast and endometrial cancers) as well as cancers in sites such as the esophagus (adenocarcinoma), gastric cardia, colon, rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney, thyroid gland, and multiple myeloma. The main mechanisms underlying this relationship include the insulin/IGF1 system, the effect of sex hormones, and adipocytokines. Marked differences may be seen in specific cancer sites when comparing men to women. There is a higher overall incidence of obesity-related cancers among females (endometrial, ovarian, and postmenopausal female breast cancers), whereas cancers that concern both sexes show a higher incidence in males, particularly esophageal adenocarcinoma (male to female ratio: 9: 1 in the USA). Additionally, bariatric surgery has provided evidence of lowering overall cancer risk in patients with morbid obesity. Interestingly, bariatric surgery may lower overall cancer risk in women within the first 5 years after surgery due to the reduced risk of breast and endometrial cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Obesity constitutes the base for marked metabolic, hormonal, and inflammatory alterations, including increased cancer risk in both men and women. Implementation of early obesity prevention strategies could ameliorate the continuously increasing incidence of cancer attributed to obesity.

Keywords: Adipokine; Bariatric; Breast cancer; Cancer; Estrogen; Gender; Obesity; Sex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bariatric Surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Neoplasms* / complications
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Obesity* / complications
  • Obesity* / epidemiology
  • Obesity, Morbid
  • Overweight
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Characteristics*