Weighing in on Teen Cancer Risks

Esophageal cancer risks higher in overweight adolescents

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D. Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Obesity in adults is linked to increased risks of esophageal cancer, a nasty disease that’s on the rise in the US, Europe and Israel. Researchers have now discovered that being overweight earlier in life may also influence cancer risks.

A new Israeli study found that overweight teens were twice as likely to develop esophageal cancer as their normal weight peers.

The at-risk youngsters had a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher.

This study adds to the evidence that maintaining a healthy weight is important in remaining healthy throughout life.

"Maintain a healthy weight."

Zohar Levi, MD, MHA, of the Rabin Medical Center in Israel, and colleagues conducted this study to determine if being overweight as a teen, socioeconomic status and ethnic factors were associated with developing cancers of the esophagus, stomach and gastroesophageal junction (where the esophagus and stomach are joined) later in life.

Dr. Levi’s group has already seen an association between excess weight in adolescence and colon, pancreatic, bladder and kidney cancer.

For this study, the research team measured the BMI — a measurement evaluating body weight relative to height — of more than one million adolescent Israeli males between 1997 and 2005. The average age of participants was 17.

Study members were followed for an average of 18.8 years.

The researchers then used the country’s cancer registry to document that 182 of the young men developed cancer later in life. They noted 52 esophageal and gastroesophageal cancers and 130 stomach cancers.

Youngsters with a BMI of 25 or higher, the researchers found, had a 2.1 times greater risk of developing esophageal cancer than peers who had a healthy weight.

Young men with a BMI of 30 or higher had a 7.6 times increased risk of esophageal cancer compared to normal weight adolescent males.

The boys who had less than nine years of education were nearly twice as likely to develop stomach (gastric) cancer as young men who had completed more years of school.

Immigrants also had higher gastric cancer risks. Adolescents from Asian countries had a three-fold increased risk, and immigrants from former Soviet Union countries had a 2.28-fold greater risk than the young men from Israel.

In a prepared statement, Dr. Levi said, "Adolescents who are overweight and obese are prone to esophageal cancer, probably due to reflux that they have throughout their life. Also, a lower socioeconomic position as a child has a lot of impact upon incidence of gastric cancer as an adult.”

Dr. Levi noted that it’s not clear if losing weight or gaining socioeconomic status later in life reduced these cancer risks.

This study was published October 14 in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

No specific funding was disclosed and no author reported any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 11, 2013
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014