Smoking has been the No. 1 preventable cause of cancer for decades and still kills more than 500,000 people a year in the United States. But obesity is poised to take the top spot, as Americans’ waistlines continue to expand while tobacco use plummets.
The switch could occur in five or 10 years, said Otis Brawley, a Johns Hopkins oncologist and former chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. The rise in obesity rates could threaten the steady decline in cancer death rates since the early 1990s, he said.
Yet only about half of Americans are aware of the link between excess weight and cancer. And researchers are struggling to answer such fundamental questions as how surplus weight increases the risk of the disease and whether, conversely, losing weight helps prevent cancer or a recurrence.
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