Body weight and cancer prevention

We all know smoking can increase our chances of getting many different types of cancer; but, did you know being overweight can, too?

Obesity, or having too much body fat, contributes to chronic diseases in Americans of all ages. These chronic diseases include diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and cancer. Along with a healthy diet, maintaining or approaching a healthier body weight has been shown to be an advantage in cancer prevention.

What is a healthy body weight? This range is estimated using your height and weight and a measurement called the Body Mass Index (BMI).  It provides a scale for determining if you are at your optimum weight – and/or if you are over- or underweight (and by how much). The higher the BMI in the overweight range, the higher the health risk. You can find a “calculator” to determine your BMI by clicking here.

In 2012, the American Institute of Cancer Research estimated that keeping a healthy body weight can prevent 19% of U.S. pancreatic cancer cases each year. In fact, excess body fat increases the risk of seven different cancers, including breast cancer.

Inactivity may be just as responsible for cancer risk as smoking and obesity. Getting exercise during reproductive and postmenopausal years has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer in women. Physical activity has also been shown to decrease risk of colon, prostate, lung and endometrial (lining of the uterus) cancers. Exercising requires cells to be more active, circulates oxygen, helps maintain hormone metabolism and can boost the immune system.Plus, it makes us feel great!

Even light to moderate exercise is beneficial. Ask your physician what exercise level is safe for you if you are thinking of starting something new.

If you are looking for a dish with great nutrition that will give you warm satisfaction without too many calories, here is a great recipe from Whole Foods Market.

Butternut squash soup

Savory butternut squash soup

Classic butternut squash soup


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 onion, diced

4 cups cubed butternut squash, fresh or frozen

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add carrot, celery and onion. Cook until vegetables have begun to soften and onion turns translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in butternut squash, thyme, chicken broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until squash is fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to purée soup. Alternatively, let the soup cool slightly and carefully purée in batches in a traditional blender.

Nutritional information per serving: 140 calories (50 from fat), 6g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 280mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate (5g dietary fiber, 4g sugar), 6g protein.

Rachel C. Miller, MS, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian

Nutritional supplements and cancer

There is no sound evidence that dietary supplements themselves can prevent cancer. There is evidence, however, that consuming a diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables decreases cancer risk.

handful of pills

Nutritional supplements may help.

That said, if you are unable to eat – or aren’t able to eat the healthy foods you usually do – adding nutritional supplements to your daily regimen may help your body’s general function by providing the vitamins and minerals it needs. Nutritional supplements can’t take the place of healthy foods, but they may be useful for times when consumption is decreased and a variety of foods is difficult to achieve.

The use of supplements during cancer treatment may be a different story; so, be sure to let your physician know if you are taking any. Interactions between medications and supplements can result in unwanted side effects, including a decrease in the effectiveness of the medication, less medication being absorbed into your system and/or an increase in toxicity – should the supplement cause less of the medication to be eliminated from the body. For example, recent research reports that supplementing with antioxidants can interfere with the effectiveness of radiation and chemo, as they actually inhibit the therapeutic compounds that the treatments produce in the body.

The best, most readily available nutrients are in our food sources, both before and after a cancer diagnosis. If you want to take a supplement, discuss the idea with a physician. Also, don’t overdo it- giving the body an extreme amount of a nutrient in which it is not deficient may be expensive, ineffective or unhealthy. The body usually takes what it needs and excretes the rest, making the buildup of that overloaded nutrient a risk for toxicity.


  • All nutrients work together to keep our bodies healthy.
  • No one vitamin or mineral alone is the answer.
  • A multivitamin may be useful for times when eating well isn’t possible.

In the meantime, try to eat a variety of foods and 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. For more information, follow this link to read about supplement use.

Rachel C. Miller, MS, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian