Study in­di­cates weight loss can lessen breast can­cer risk

The Progress-Index - - AMUSEMENTS -

Dear Doc­tor: I re­cently read an ar­ti­cle that said even a lit­tle bit of weight loss — just 5 per­cent of your to­tal body weight — can lessen your risk of breast can­cer. Why is that? Does it hold true for women who are of nor­mal weight?

Dear Reader: The link be­tween be­ing over­weight and breast can­cer risk is some­what com­plex. Hav­ing more fat tis­sue is as­so­ci­ated with higher lev­els of the hor­mone es­tro­gen. This, in turn, has been con­nected to an in­crease in the risk of breast can­cer. That ex­tra weight can of­ten re­sult in higher lev­els of in­sulin, which has also been linked to an in­crease in breast can­cer risk. Weight gain is also as­so­ci­ated with a rise in in­flam­ma­tion, though whether this plays a role in can­cer is still be­ing stud­ied.

Mean­while, some re­search has con­nected this rise in breast can­cer risk to ex­cess weight that was gained in adult­hood but finds that it may not ap­ply to women who were over­weight or obese as chil­dren. And to top things off, as these stud­ies be­come de­lib­er­ately more in­clu­sive and di­verse, it ap­pears that eth­nic­ity and race also play a role in whether or not ex­cess weight adds to an in­di­vid­ual's breast can­cer risk.

The study you're re­fer­ring to comes from City of Hope, a can­cer treat­ment and re­search cen­ter here in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The im­pe­tus was to learn if weight loss might re­verse the in­creased risk of breast can­cer in women who were over­weight or obese. The sci­en­tists also wanted to know whether the tim­ing of that weight loss would mat­ter.

They drew from data com­piled by the Women's Health Ini­tia­tive, a longterm study of health out­comes in older women over­seen by the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health. The 61,000 women in the breast can­cer study, all post-menopause, had nor­mal mam­mo­grams at the start of the 11-year pe­riod of the study.

The re­searchers com­pared the health data of women who lost (and main­tained the loss) of at least 5 per­cent of their to­tal body weight with the health data of those whose weight re­mained the same. One of the take­aways, as you men­tioned, was that the 5 per­cent weight loss was as­so­ci­ated with a re­duced breast can­cer risk.

Un­for­tu­nately, this study doesn't an­swer your ques­tion about weight loss and a re­duc­tion of breast can­cer risk among women who are not over­weight. The women in the study who lost weight started out with an av­er­age body mass in­dex, or BMI, of 29. That's deep into the over­weight cat­e­gory, which is a BMI be­tween 25 and 29, and bump­ing up against the lower thresh­old of obe­sity, which is a BMI of 30 and above.

How­ever, body weight isn't the only fac­tor to con­sider. The pres­ence of ab­dom­i­nal fat, in­de­pen­dent of body weight, has been linked with an in­creased risk of sev­eral types of can­cer, in­clud­ing colon, rec­tal and pan­cre­atic can­cers. It's also a risk fac­tor in a num­ber of metabolic dis­eases.

Our ad­vice is to re­duce your weight and your mid­dle with a health­ful, whole-food diet and reg­u­lar ex­er­cise. And, if you're reg­u­lars here, you pretty much know what's next: Please, no smok­ing.

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an in­ternist and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of medicine at UCLA Health. El­iz­a­beth Ko, M.D., is an in­ternist and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of medicine at UCLA Health. Send your ques­tions to ask­the­do­c­tors@med­, or write: Ask the Doc­tors, c/o Me­dia Re­la­tions, UCLA Health, 924 West­wood Blvd., Suite 350, Los An­ge­les, CA, 90095. Ow­ing to the vol­ume of mail, per­sonal replies can­not be pro­vided.

Dr. El­iz­a­beth Ko & Dr. Eve Glazier

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