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Breast Cancer Risks Rise with Weight: September 26, 2012

Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used to gauge several aspects of health. Now you can add recurrence of breast cancer to the list.

“Obesity has been known for a long time as one of many risk factors for breast cancer.  But what’s particularly important is that there’s some evidence that they may have a higher risk of recurrence if they don’t keep a low fat diet and keep an ideal body weight,” says Dr. William Harwin, an oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Despite the best treatment, researchers found the higher a woman’s BMI, the higher the likelihood of developing breast cancer again.

“The figures are dramatic. Women who were obese at the time of their diagnosis had a 30 percent higher risk of recurrence and a nearly 50 percent higher risk of death than those who were at normal weight,” says Dr. Harwin.

The link is based on body fat and hormonal changes.

“Probably some correlation with fatty tissue and production of excess estrogen.  There is some relationship with estrogen and breast cancer. The two are definitely linked in a lot of ways,” says Dr. Harwin.

These findings may one day lead to new treatments that block hormonal changes and inflammation caused by obesity. Doctors aren’t willing to wait, encouraging women to make changes now.

“In my patients who’ve had breast cancer, I’m always telling them to try the low fat diet, make sure they exercise,” says Dr. Harwin.

In the battle against breast cancer, it may be one of the most important things they can do for themselves.