And those who then gained more than 40 pounds by age 50 doubled their risk of esophageal cancer and moderately increased their risk for stomach cancer, the study found.
But, it was those individuals who progressed from overweight at age 20 to obese at age 50 and older who had three times or more increased risk for esophageal and stomach cancer, the study found.
“These findings underscore the potential of weight control programs for decreasing the likelihood of developing esophageal and stomach cancer, which both have extremely poor survival,” said lead researcher Jessica Petrick, from the U.S. National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md.
The report, based on data on more than 400,000 people, was published recently in the British Journal of Cancer.
However, Dr. Patrick Okolo, chief of gastroenterology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, cautioned that the study did not prove that weight gain causes either cancer. There only appears to be an association between putting on the pounds and an increased risk for the rare cancers.
But, he added, “Without a doubt, there is an association between increased weight and cancer.
“If you gain weight like most adults, typically 40 pounds or more, you approximate the risk for these cancers of someone who has been heavy all their life. So not only is being heavy bad, but weight gain is also bad,” Okolo said.