— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.
The link between obesity and several types of cancer is well established and supported, and while cervical cancer is not commonly identified among those cancers, research indicates there may be a connection.
Is it Lifestyle Risk or Diagnostic Inaccuracy?
Findings from various studies over the past 10 years offer conflicting results regarding a link between obesity and cervical cancer. A 2003 study found that the risk of cervical cancer among women with obesity was twice as high as that for women of healthy weight and that women with obesity, measured by body mass index (BMI) — or waist-to-hip ratio — were more likely to have adenocarcinoma, the most common type of cervical cancer cells. Conversely, a 2016 meta-analysis found no connection among women who were overweight and only a weak association between obesity and cervical cancer.1
A more recent retrospective study offers a possible explanation. Although women with obesity had the lowest five-year risk of pre-cancer, they had the highest five-year risk of cancer. The researchers hypothesized that this paradox more likely results from issues with pre-cancer testing versus having weight-related attribution. That is, the equipment and testing methods may not be as effective for women with obesity. For example, women with overweight and obesity were underdiagnosed versus healthy or underweight women who underwent a colposcopy, suggesting inaccurate diagnoses may occur more frequently within this group.2
Another study considered a different approach, identifying the impact of independent gut microbial risk factors in patients with cervical cancer who were receiving chemo radiation. This research found that gut diversity and BMI were independent risk factors for recurrence-free survival and overall survival. Higher alpha gut diversity at baseline was correlated with improved survival rates, such that overweight or obesity was found to be a favorable prognostic factor independent of gut diversity. However, as it is possible to maintain a diverse gut microbiota at a healthy weight, the positive effects may continue through weight loss.
Weight Loss as a Preventive Measure
Many patients with cancer can lose weight safely and effectively through the use of a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD). A VLCD provides required nutrition and offers positive health outcomes beyond reduction of cancer risk including improved cardiovascular health, hypertension, and diabetic outcomes.