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Being Obese Can Cause Aggressive Breast Cancer

Being Obese Can Cause Aggressive Breast Cancer

More news on carrying too many pounds. Being obese is something doctors know ups the risk of breast cancer that is influenced by estrogen in women who have gone through menopause. There’s new research that hints at a link between obesity after menopause and a form of extra aggressive breast cancer that is particularly hard to treat.

There were an estimated 207,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. during 2010. Just 10-20% of all breast cancers are the triple negative form that’s identified as a lack of estrogen, progesterone and HER2 protein expression. Though uncommon, this form of breast cancer is far more aggressive, so the outlook is not as rosy as we’d like, mostly due to the shortage of targeted treatments for this form of the disease. Biologically, this subtype of breast cancer is very different from other forms.

Researchers looked at data on 155,723 women who were part of the Women’s Health Initiative. This is a large study of women after menopause that started in 1993. The subjects were between 50 and 79 years old and supplied information on their exercise habits, height and weight so that BMI numbers could be calculated.

During the lengthy follow up, 2,610 women were diagnosed with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer (influenced by estrogen) and just over 300 developed the triple-negative form of the disease. The subjects were split into four groups based on their BMI; the participants at the top of the scale had a BMI of 31 of higher. As the researchers looked at the risks of obesity, they controlled for factors like age, education, income, ethnicity and family history.

The work found that women with the largest BMI measurements had a 35% greater chance of being diagnosed with the aggressive from of cancer, triple-negative, in comparison to those who had the lowest BMIs. The study subjects had a 39% increased risk of other breast cancers as well.

The association was what researchers term “borderline” in terms of statistical significance, though Phipps believes this is explained by the smaller number of cases in this particular piece of research.

The team also saw a small link between being more physically active and lower risk of both (estrogen-receptor positive and triple-negative) types of breast cancer, concluding that more exercise might help in terms of risk for these cancers. Being active will also help keep your weight under control, so it’s a win-win.

Doctor’s know that post menopause, most of the estrogen in a woman’s body comes from what fat she has, so the higher the levels of fat, the more exposure the body gets to this hormone. This is why experts have long accepted the relationship between carrying too much weight and estrogen-positive breast cancers.

In fact, experts who reviewed the research, but didn’t participate in it believe that this latest study gives weight to the argument that obesity and risk of cancer aren’t only an estrogen problem. It’s more than the cancer cells feeding off the estrogen, the fat cells might just create an environment cancer cells really like. Though we all expect that fat is inert in the body, we are coming to find that fat cells are pretty active

Obesity is also known to raise markers of inflammation, insulin levels and insulin like growth factor, which are all perfectly capable of contributing to the development of a breast tumor.

More work is needed, but the message about not being obese and keeping your weight under control, all through you life, is a smart one, especially if you’re worried about aggressive breast cancer.

Being Obese Can Cause Aggressive Breast Cancer

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