(HealthDay News) — Obesity is associated with close to 500,000 new cancer cases worldwide each year, and nearly two-thirds of obesity-related cancers occur in North America and Europe, according to a study published in The Lancet Oncology.

The analysis of data from 184 countries showed that excess weight was associated with 345,000 (5.4%) of new cancers in women in 2012, and 136,000 (1.9%) of new cancers in men in 2012. 

Among women, postmenopausal breast, endometrial and colon cancers accounted for nearly three-quarters (250,000 cases) of obesity-related cancers, while colon and kidney cancers accounted for more than two-thirds (nearly 90,000 cases) of obesity-related cancers in men. 

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Excess weight was associated with about 8% of cancers in women and 3% of cancers in men in developed nations, compared with 1.5% of cancers in women and 0.3% of cancers in men in developing nations.

In 2012, the highest number of obesity-related cancers was in North America, with more than 110,000 (23% of the worldwide total), while the lowest number was in sub-Saharan Africa, with 7,300 cases (1.5% of the global total). In Europe, there were 66,000 obesity-related cancer cases. 

Rates of obesity-related cancers varied widely among countries. Among men, rates were particularly high in the Czech Republic (5.5% of new cancer cases in 2012), Jordan and Argentina (4.5%), and the United Kingdom and Malta (4.4%). Among women, rates were highest in Barbados (12.7%), Czech Republic (12%) and Puerto Rico (11.6%). 

Rates were lowest in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, with less than 2% in men and less than 4% in women.

“Our findings add support for a global effort to address the rising trends in obesity. The global prevalence of obesity in adults has doubled since 1980. If this trend continues, it will certainly boost the future burden of cancer, particularly in South America and North Africa, where the largest increases in the rate of obesity have been seen over the last 30 years,” study leader Melina Arnold, PhD, of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, said in a journal news release.


  1. Arnold M et al. Lancet Oncol. 2014;doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(14)71123-4.