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Prevention is better than cure!

The National Cancer Research Institute of the UK recently held their annual conference and one of the topics that they looked at was the relationship between weight gain and increased risk of developing cancer. Does putting on weight as an adult increase the risk of developing cancer?, was one of the questions addressed at the conference.  In this post we will discuss some of the findings of this research question in the light of the following obesity prevalence data: In the UK, “…one in 10 children starting school and one in four adults are obese”. Sadly, we South Africans may be in worse shape. The vast majority of our men and women are overweight. Is this perhaps a major reason for the increase in the prevalence of cancer?

Dr Susan Jebb of Oxford University, and one of the conference participants,  noted that “…obesity is now recognised as the leading modifiable cause of cancer for non-smokers…” She went on to say that finding effective ways of preventing obesity has to be really important in the fight against cancer.  I echo these sentiments. It is obvious that the best way of dealing with cancer is to never to get it. In other words, prevention is always preferable to cure!

Another presenter at National Cancer Research Institute conference, Dr Hannah Lennon, presented on the relationship between weight gain and cancer incidence.  Overweight me men, it appears, are much more at risk than overweight women.   In men, the risk of developing cancer increases by 50% while for women the risk increases by 17%.

We add risk as we add weight

What is also of interest is that it is not just the fact that the person who is overweight is at increased risk but that this risk begins to increase as weight increases. This phenomenon points to the process of weight gain providing some clue as to what is actually behind the increase in cancer risk. In other words, it’s not being overweight per se but the metabolic dysfunction that  causes the weight gain that appears to be the main problem.  And it looks as though insulin resistance and the associated metabolic and inflammatory pathways may be the primary suspect.

Insulin resistance appears to be the primary driver of weight gain associated cancer risk. If so, then it makes perfect sense to address this metabolic dysfunction. We treat and prevent insulin resistance by moderating the amount of insulin secreted by our pancreas. And this we do by reducing the sugar and other refined carbohydrates in our diet.

Simple solution

My message is pretty clear. If we want to reduce the risk of getting weight-gain associated cancer then prevent weight gain in the first place and the best way of doing this is to prevent the development of insulin resistance. “Get the sugar out!” should become the clarion call in homes, schools and in the workplace across the country.

We – society as a whole – needs to put pressure on the food and beverage industry to reduce the sugar content of their products.  And perhaps the best way of doing this is not to put these foods and beverages into our shopping baskets . We need to develop a, “If it’s not in your trolley, it’s not in your body” mindset.

If you would like more information on  insulin resistance  or help in dealing with being overweight, with without having to resort to medication, then please email me at


I’m Dr Peter Hill for UpForIt

“preventing people from becoming patients”