New evidence shows waistline linked to cancer risk

Media release - The Cancer Council Victoria

New Australian research involving over 40,000 Victorians has found a direct link between waist measurement and cancer risk. The research, conducted by The Cancer Council Victoria, reveals a waist measurement of over 100cm for men, and over 85cm for women, can significantly increase the risk of cancer, including breast, bowel and aggressive prostate cancers.

The startling findings of the 20-year study have prompted the development of a confronting television commercial warning the public of the risks of being overweight.

Senior epidemiologist at The Cancer Council Victoria, Professor Dallas English supervised the analysis of the data. “The research focused on several indicators that could potentially influence a person’s cancer risk including body mass index, height and weight, bioimpedance (muscle versus fat analysis), and waist measurement. T

he findings were most significant for waist circumference, and it’s beneficial that this simple measurement with which most Australians can identify,” said Professor English.

“The results show being overweight or obese is associated with increased risk of several types of cancer. The evidence is clear for cancer of the colon, post menopausal breast, endometrium, kidney and oesophagus.

For example, for men with a waistline over 100cm, risk was found to increase by 72% for colon cancer and 43% for prostate cancer. For women with a waistline over 85cm, risk was found to be 22% higher for breast cancer and 33% higher for colon cancer,” he added.

Director of The Cancer Council Victoria, Professor David Hill, said,
“While being overweight has been proved to be a major contributor for many other serious diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, the link to cancer is relatively new.

In those who are overweight, for all cancers, for every 10cm increase in waist circumference, cancer risk increases by 6% for men and 8% for women. “The Cancer Council estimates that in Victoria in 2004, 1100 cancer cases and 500 cancer deaths can be attributed to overweight and obesity.

“We are concerned that many people do not know they are overweight, and consequently, at risk of cancer. Data collected in Victoria in 2004 show 14.3% of men and 14.7% of women are classified as obese while 42% of men and 23% of women are overweight.

“We are now encouraging Australians to identify whether they are overweight and to take the appropriate steps to manage their situation. The first step is for people to measure their waist.

Our research shows, cancer risk increases at 85cm for women, and 100cm for men. People who exceed these measures should look at implementing changes to reduce their cancer risk.” added Professor Hill.

Health implications of overweight and obesity
Besides increased cancer risk, being overweight or obese also leads to decreased life expectancy and reduced quality of life as a result of: Cardiovascular Disease; Type 2 Diabetes; Sleep Apnoea; OsteoArthritis; Psychological Disorders, and Social Problems.

Overweight and obesity overtakes smoking
Overweight and obesity have recently overtaken tobacco smoking as the leading risk factor for premature death and disease in Australia. Obesity accounts for 8.6% of the disease burden in 2003. In Victoria in 2001 it was estimated as accounting for 8% of the disease burden.

How to measure your waist
• Measure your waist at the halfway point between your lowest rib and the top of your hipbone. This point is around your stomach, roughly in-line with your belly button.
• Take the measure directly on your skin
• Take the measure at the end of expiration (breathing out normally).
• The tape should be snug, but shouldn’t compress the flesh.

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