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NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) – Overweight 20-somethings dramatically increase their risk of esophageal and stomach cancer if they become obese later in life, a new study suggests.

The research indicated that people who were overweight in their 20s had a 60 percent to 80 percent increased risk of developing these cancers, compared with those who maintained a normal weight throughout their life, researchers said.

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.

Excess weight can trigger acid reflux problems and heartburn that can lead to cancer, Petrick said.

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