Being Fat is No Way to Live

Breast cancer patients who are overweight have poorer outcomes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) You've heard it a million times. Maybe you make a joke or say, “I really do need to lose some weight.” The fact is, fat isn’t good for you in any way - physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

And for some women, fat could be a deadly business.

Overweight women who’ve had the most common type of breast cancer (estrogen-receptor positive – ER+) are more likely to see the disease return and die from it than are their sisters of normal weight.

The links between fat and breast cancer are getting stronger everyday. It's nothing to mess around with.

"Lose some weight - get some help doing it."

Researchers from around the United States, led by Joseph Sparano, MD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Montefiore Medical Center, discovered the ties. They learned that even a few too many pounds can make a difference.

“We found that obesity at diagnosis of breast cancer is associated with about a 30 percent higher risk of recurrence and a nearly 50 percent higher risk of death despite optimal treatment," said Dr. Sparano in a press release.

dailyRx asked Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD how he counsels his own patients. “I would try to maintain as normal a bodyweight as possible. Trying to eat less refined carbohydrates such as cake and cookies, and walking for 30-60 minutes 3-4 times per week would be a nice start towards trying to reduce the odds of breast cancer recurrence," said Dr. Brufsky, who is professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

For this study, researchers looked at and compared how a woman’s weight affected her battle against stage I-III ER+ breast cancer, which is the most common type of breast cancer. It is driven by the female hormone estrogen.

After surgery and chemotherapy, women are often put on estrogen-blocking medications, which could include tamoxifen, Arimidex (anastrozole), Aromasin (exemestane), or Femara (letrozole).

The scientists looked at the records of nearly 7,000 women participating in three national trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. There was BMI information on about 4,800 participants - 1,745 women were obese (BMI of 30+), 1,540 were overweight, 1,447 were normal BMI and 38 were underweight at the time of diagnosis.

The study members were followed for about eight years.

Participants had no other major health concerns at the time of the study. This allowed the researchers to focus solely on the role of obesity in breast cancer recurrence and outcome.

As a woman’s BMI (body mass index – measure of body fat based on height and weight) increased at the time of breast cancer diagnosis, so did her risks of the disease returning and winning.

This trend was true regardless of the woman having received the best treatment available, including chemotherapy and hormone blocking therapy after primary treatment.

“The results of this analysis clearly establish a relation between higher BMI at the time of breast cancer diagnosis and higher risk of recurrence and death, specifically in hormone receptor-positive, HER-2–negative disease, which accounts for about 2/3 of all breast cancers,” the authors wrote.

"Treatment strategies aimed at interfering with hormonal changes and inflammation caused by obesity may help reduce the risk of recurrence," Dr. Sparano said.

The study was published in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.

It was supported by grants from National Institutes of Health (NIH). The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 27, 2012
Last Updated:
September 6, 2012