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Obesity and Breast Cancer

Posted 6/21/2013

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  I am always a bit reluctant to write about this topic and/or to share new studies that link a higher risk of developing breast cancer as well as a higher risk of recurrence to obesity. Women who are overweight already worry about it, and heaping on more anxiety and guilt is not likely to be helpful. Indeed, a few women have even told me that thinking about this risk just makes them more upset and food is their standard and best way to soothe those feelings. If worrying about extra pounds might result in adding additional pounds, this surely is not a helpful subject.

  However, here we are, and the facts remain that extra pounds are not good for us. We know about the other health risks that accompany obesity ( heart disease and diabetes being high on the list), and, sadly, breast cancer apparently belongs there, too. This feels particulaly ironic since treatment for breast cancer very often results in gaining weight. When first diagnosed, women assume that treatment will result in weight loss, and may even tell themselves this could be one benefit. However, the reality is that chemotherapy and hormonal therapy almost always bring on a few pounds, How unfair!

  This is from Breastcancer.Org and is a summary of several studies presented earlier this month at ASCO. I give you the start of the article and a link to read more:

Obesity and Breast Cancer Focus of Several Sessions at 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting

Overweight and obese women – defined as having a BMI (body mass index) higher than 25 – have a higher risk
of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who maintain a healthy weight, especially after
menopause. Being overweight also can increase the risk of breast cancer coming back (recurrence) in women
who’ve been diagnosed with the disease.
This higher risk is partially because fat cells make estrogen; extra fat cells mean more estrogen in the body and
estrogen can make hormonereceptorpositive  breast cancers develop and grow. Scientists also have recently
found that extra fat cells can trigger longterm, lowgrade inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation has been
linked to a higher risk of breast cancer recurrence; the proteins secreted by the immune system seem to stimulate breast cancer cells to grow, especially estrogen receptor positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
At the same time, dozens of studies have shown that losing weight, exercising more, and eating a healthy diet improve the physical and mental wellbeing of people who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. People who make these changes also see positive changes in biomarkers (measurable characteristics in the body) linked to breast cancer risk and outcomes.

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