Healthy Tidbits

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Does being overweight increase risk of breast cancer?

Oct 17, 2014

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women today. Each year, more than one million women are diagnosed with breast cancer—most of those women are 50 years old or older.

There are some risks for cancer we have no control over—weight is not one of them. What exactly is the relationship between obesity and breast cancer?

Research on the link between a woman’s weight and her risk of developing breast cancer show convincing evidence that being overweight or obese does increase breast cancer risk after menopause. A study from the American Cancer Society found that weight gain during adulthood increased a woman’s post-menopausal breast cancer risk. Women who gained 60 pounds or more after age 18 had double the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer after menopause than women who maintained their weight through adulthood.

Does weight increase breast cancer risk in younger women? Interestingly, research shows that weight does not increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer prior to menopause—in fact, some studies suggest being overweight may actually lower a younger woman’s risk of cancer. Although it should be noted that being overweight or obese comes with a number of other health risks and maintaining a healthy weight is always the best option. Additionally, weight gain in premenopausal years is likely to carry into postmenopausal years, thus increasing risk of breast cancer.

It is thought that the relationship between weight and breast cancer has to do with higher levels of estrogen in the body. Fatty tissue is the largest source of estrogen among postmenopausal women. Fat contains an enzyme called aromatase that converts hormones called androgens to estrogens. Women with higher estrogen levels are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women with lower estrogen levels.

Can bariatric surgery reduce breast cancer risk?

Studies on weight loss surgery patients have shown that women who have undergone bariatric surgery were less likely to develop breast cancer or die from the disease than women who are obese. One study even found that women who have undergone bariatric surgery to lose weight are 83 percent less likely to develop breast cancer.

If you are a woman who is overweight, contact the Nicholson Clinic today to discuss the health risks you face and how bariatric surgery can help you live a healthier life.