Obesity’s Link to Breast Cancer

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and as with many conditions and diseases, obesity can increase one’s risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 70% of American adults are overweight. Compared with people of normal weight, those who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for many diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and many cancers. Most breast cancers occur after menopause. For women, being overweight or obese after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. 

Having more fat tissue can increase your chance of getting breast cancer by raising estrogen levels. Also, women who are overweight tend to have higher levels of insulin, another hormone. Higher insulin levels have also been linked to some cancers, including breast cancer.

Before menopause, most estrogens in the body are produced in the ovaries. After menopause, the ovaries no longer produce much estrogen and estrogens mainly come from fat tissue. Fat tissue contains an enzyme called aromatase that converts hormones called androgens (made mostly in the adrenal glands) to estrogens. Therefore, heavier women have higher blood estrogen levels than leaner women.

Body shape may also affect breast cancer risk. Some findings show women who put on extra weight around their middle sections (sometimes called “apple-shaped”), as opposed to their hips and thighs (sometimes called “pear-shaped”), have a small to moderate increased risk of breast cancer.

And even though gaining weight can raise your cancer risk, it’s not clear whether losing weight reduces your risk. This has been difficult to study, mainly because very few people actually lose weight during adulthood, and those who do lose weight don’t usually keep it off over a long period of time. 

We do know that avoiding weight gain is helpful, whether you are overweight now or not. One large study found women who gained about 20 pounds after age 18 had a 15 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who gained little or no weight. If you’re carrying extra pounds, losing as little as 5%-10% of your weight improves your overall health. 

Exercise can also lower breast cancer risk in addition to helping lose weight. Many studies have found that exercise is a breast-healthy habit. As little as 75 to 150 minutes of brisk walking each week has been shown to lower risk. Exercising more may lower your breast cancer risk even further.

Strong evidence for a relationship between weight loss and cancer risk comes from studies of people who have undergone bariatric surgery. Obese people who have bariatric surgery appear to have lower risks of obesity-related cancers than obese people who do not have bariatric surgery.

If you’re considering bariatric surgery, schedule a consultation here at VIPSurg. Our team of experts can help find the right treatment for you.

close up of hands and pink cancer awareness ribbon

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