Is Excess Weight Worsening Your Breast Cancer?

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • If you don’t know by now that carrying excess weight is bad for your health in almost every possible way – where have you been?

    The national media focus on obesity, played out regularly on the nightly news, tells us that Americans are getting fatter, and that our overall health is deteriorating. Cardiac issues, diabetes, high blood pressure… all are exacerbated by excess body weight.

    But are you aware that those extra pounds also raise your risk of post-menopausal breast cancer?

    And now, researchers say that if you do get breast cancer, obesity significantly increases your risk of it spreading, and your risk of dying from it. As well as reducing the effectiveness of your cancer treatment.

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    A new long-term Danish study, published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (November 29, 2010) finds that obesity in women diagnosed with breast cancer significantly increases both the risk of breast cancer spreading, and death.   

    Ten years after diagnosis, women in the study classified as obese were 46% more likely to have had a distant metastasis than women whose weight was within the normal range. In addition, obese women were 38% more likely to die of breast cancer within 30 years of diagnosis (the length of the study) than normal-weight women with breast cancer.

    Potentially frightening, right? Let’s clarify some terminology first.

    Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30. In plain terms, a 5’ 6” woman weighing 186 pounds or more is obese. If she weighs 154 pounds or less, she’s considered normal (BMI less than 25). In between (BMI between 25 and 25.9) – she’s overweight, but not obese.

    So, your first task is to calculate your BMI. Truly, it’s easy. Use this BMI calculator to plug in your height and weight, and it’ll tell you your BMI.

    If you qualify as obese, it’s long been known that not only is your risk of getting breast cancer in the first place higher than normal; if you do get cancer, your risk of a future cancer in the other breast is increased, as well.

    And now there’s evidence that your treatment won’t be as effective as it could be; your cancer is more likely to spread, and it’s more likely to kill you.

    What about those who are overweight, but not obese?

    Data shows your risk of negative outcomes is higher across the board, but not as high as it is for obese women.

    The Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Frank A. Sinicrope, and Dr. Andrew J. Dannenberg of New York’s Weil Cornell Cancer Center, writing in the journal article cited above, note that “…obese patients with breast cancer should be made aware of the substantial evidence for the adverse impact of obesity on risk and outcome, and should be counseled about the potential importance of lifestyle changes to improve weight control.”

    In plain language, you should know that as a breast cancer survivor, the more excess weight you carry, the worse your chance of surviving your cancer.

    Feeling guilty? Shake it off. Action trumps negative emotion any day. First, get up and go for a walk. Regularly.

  • Next, speak to your oncologist about getting some nutritional counseling; most good hospitals have dietitians who work exclusively with cancer patients.  

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    Losing weight is an enormous challenge. But if you manage your expectations, it’s do-able.

    Don’t look at the goal as losing 50 pounds. Instead, make it your goal to lose 1 pound a week for a year.

    There’s your 50 pounds. And you’ve not only lost weight, you’ve probably gained something valuable – a longer, healthier life.

    Definitely a goal worth working for.

Published On: January 24, 2011