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Obesity and Breast Cancer – The Frightening Connections

Published on October 3, 2013

original3Breast cancer knows no bounds; it can affect any size, shape, ethnicity, demographic and gender of human. Every October, Americans are reminded of how deeply breast cancer touches us as a society; we see pink everywhere. It affects mothers, wives, daughters, friends, aunts, cousins and even some men. In 2013, it is expected that there will be 232,340 new cases of breast cancer.

Many studies have been conducted throughout the years, and researchers continue to pursue finding that elusive cure for the disease. While there remains a lot to learn, one group which should be particularly aware of its risk for developing breast cancer is obese women.

Studies show that heavier women are not only more likely to get breast cancer, but they also have an increased risk for disease recurrence, and are more likely to die from the disease, especially after menopause.

So why the increased risk? Most breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive, meaning they’re stimulated to grow by hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. In obese women, fat tissue produces excess amounts of estrogen. Before menopause, most of a woman’s estrogen comes from the ovaries, but after menopause, estrogen is mostly derived from fat tissue. Researchers are seeing a distinct connection between this type of estrogen production and breast cancer.

However there is still a plethora of research that needs to be done. According to the National Cancer Institute, there may be an association between when a woman becomes obese and if she will develop breast cancer. Some information suggests that there is a consistent link between women who gain weight as adults (ages 18 to 60) and contracting breast cancer after menopause.

Obesity also has a negative effect on the prognosis for both pre and postmenopausal breast cancers. Higher grade tumors, higher mortality rates and higher incidences of recurrence have all demonstrated a link between excess weight gain and breast cancer.

Three clinical trials conducted by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group studied 5,000 women over an eight-year period, one-third of which were obese and one-third overweight. The researchers found that obese women were 40% more likely to experience a recurrence of the disease and 69% were more likely to die from breast cancer compared to their normal weight counterparts.

In addition to the mounting evidence linking obesity and breast cancer, it also appears there may be a disconnect between the amount of chemotherapy needed for obese patients and the amount actually received because of a “cap” in dosage. Recently, the American Society for Clinical Oncology adopted new guidelines to treat obese patients, aiming to change survival rates of obese patients who have received chemotherapy to treat breast, colon, ovarian or lung cancers, to name a few.

It seems as if the more that is known about cancer, the more questions that arise over time. More research on the correlation between obesity and breast cancer is currently being conducted, and the more the medical community knows, the better detection and treatment for this disease can be for our patients.

According to the American Cancer Society, there is evidence that suggests weight loss may help reduce the risk of many types of cancer, including breast. One theory is that certain types of hormones related to cancer risk, including estrogen, are reduced when losing weight.

If you or someone you know is obese, it’s important to see a doctor regularly. Because obesity is associated with a host of medical complications, physicians who specialize in obesity treatment and related conditions can assess your full medical needs and recommend the right path for successful treatment. From medically-supervised weight- loss programs, to weight-loss surgery and other lifestyle changes, our team can help you at any stage of life and health.

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