With over 36,000 people diagnosed with cancer each year in Ireland, Breakthrough Cancer Research is aiming to help people make informed choices for themselves and their families.

Being overweight and inactive accounts for up to a third of worldwide cases of colon, kidney, oesophageal, breast and endometrial cancer according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organisation, 2013. A large proportion of cancers are entirely preventable by appropriate food, nutrition, physical activity and body fat according to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

Dr Aoife Ryan, Dietitian and Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences in University College Cork and Principal Investigator with Breakthrough Cancer Research states, “A large percentage of cancers are now known to be caused by overweight, obesity and inactivity. Carrying excess weight increases the risk of over 12 different types of cancer according to the WCRF 2018. The risk is particularity high in people who carry excess weight on their abdomen (belly). The fat present here is called visceral fat. It surrounds our gut and is highly metabolically active. It produces several hormones and growth factors which we know are linked with cancer development.

However, it’s not all bad news as Dr Aoife Ryan states, “The good news is that visceral fat responds to exercise and diet, with benefits ranging from lower blood pressure to more favourable cholesterol levels. Even a 10% weight loss can immediately decrease the hormone levels from visceral fat. It takes a short time for visceral fat to be reduced by simple diet and lifestyle changes.”

According to the WCRF, maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life – by eating a balanced diet and regular physical activity – helps reduce the risk of developing cancer. This may be one of the most important ways to prevent cancer.

Chief Executive with Breakthrough, Orla Dolan states, “We wanted to highlight that fat cells do not just make it harder to get into our favourite pair of jeans, they also dramatically increase our risk of developing cancer. We all know that being overweight puts extra pressure on our bodies but we wanted to explain why. The more curious we are about cancer and its causes, the more likely we will be to make changes to our lifestyle. It is all about education and having the correct research-based information to hand to make the best choices for ourselves and our families.”