By Sylvia Gonsahn-Bollie, M.D.
It’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know there was a link between obesity and breast cancer? Even if you did, the link is not as clear-cut as you may think. Depending on whether you’ve gone through menopause or not, your breast risk may be increased or decreased.
Premenopausal Women with Obesity
Interestingly, studies have shown that premenopausal women with obesity have a decreased risk of breast cancer. Part of this may be because estrogen has a protective effect at a younger age against breast cancer. However, no one knows for sure why this correlation is. It is not recommended you gain weight during this time to “reduce your risk.” As we’ll discuss in the next section, weight gain during adulthood is associated with a higher risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.
Postmenopausal Women with Obesity
What is certain is that after menopause, having a body mass index of greater than 30 kg/m2 (the obesity range) places you at an increased risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if you gain weight during adulthood. Part of the thought of why this happens is that the fat associated with obesity is very hormonally active. Fat cells associated with obesity secrete estrogen, raises insulin levels and other hormones that stimulate breast cancer growth. Studies show that prolonged exposure to estrogen increases breast cancer risk.
High insulin levels also have been linked to tumor growth. This sick fat associated with obesity also has inflammatory markers that cause damage to cells. It can also increase the risk of breast cancer.
Now I know the risks... now what?
So what can you do? It is not sure if weight loss alone will decrease the risk of breast cancer. However, we know that having a healthy weight will help reduce breast cancer reoccurrence and keep you in remission longer if you do get breast cancer. Also, taking active steps toward a healthy weight after breast cancer remission will decrease the chance of reoccurrence. You should be under active breast cancer surveillance with your oncologist during this time in addition to your weight loss efforts.
It is essential for breast cancer survivors who also have obesity to work with someone trained in obesity or weight loss for your post-cancer weight loss plan. Weight loss can be taxing on the body, especially if done incorrectly. Immediately after undergoing cancer treatment, you need to be gentle with your body as it continues to heal and prevent cancer reoccurrence.
Most importantly, we know that healthy lifestyle habits associated with weight loss help reduce breast cancer risks.
Healthy Habit to Decrease Risk
Eat Less Meat- Specifically, decreasing your meat consumption (red meat and processed meat) helps reduce breast cancer risk. In particular, the World Health Organization listed processed meats as carcinogens, cancer-causing agents. This association with carcinogens has been linked with breast cancer. Also, eating red meat more than once a week has been shown with this. Barbecue and grilled meats are associated with increased breast cancer risk.
Eat more veggies- Increase vegetable intake is associated with decreased cancer risk.
Exercise- aim to get 2.5 hours of exercise weekly to decrease your breast cancer risk. Breast cancer survivors should strive for 5hrs a week to reduce the risk of reoccurrence.
Drink Less Alcohol- Aim to have <7 drinks a week to maintain your weight and decrease breast cancer risk.
Stress less- chronic stress is toxic to the body because it stimulates the release of hormones, like cortisol, that promote inflammation.
I hope this brief article has provided you with insight into the complex association between obesity and breast cancer. If you have obesity and would like to develop a personalized, scientific, sustainable weight loss strategy to address your unique weight gain triggers, schedule a complimentary consultation with Dr. Sylvia Bollie Consultation | EmbraceYOU W & W
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