Women in the United States have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer during their lives. While there are many risk factors that can’t be changed such as a family history of breast cancer, late menopause, age at first pregnancy or beginning menstruation at an early age, other risk factors may be changed.
In 2002, the American Cancer Society announced the results from its Cancer Prevention Study II, which followed nearly 500,000 post-menopausal women. The study found that women who were overweight or obese after menopause had a greater risk of dying from breast cancer than normal weight women. According to the authors of the study, obesity may play a significant role in as many as 50 percent of breast cancer deaths among post-menopausal women.
The connection between menopause and obesity lies in the production of estrogen. Before menopause, a woman’s ovaries produce the majority of estrogen the body needs. Once the ovaries stop producing estrogen, the body’s fat cells take on this role. Fat tissue contains aromatase, a protein that changes androgens from the adrenal glands into estrogen. Excess weight means more estrogen in the body.
How much added weight increases your risk of breast cancer?
- The American Cancer Society study indicated that women who gained 60 or more pounds as adults were twice as likely to have ductal tumors and 1.5 times more likely to have lobular tumors. Women who gained more than 60 pounds were three times more likely to have metastatic breast cancer.
- Women who gain 22 pounds after menopause experience an 18 percent increase of developing breast cancer.
The good news is that losing weight, even after menopause, can help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Losing at least 22 pounds after menopause and keeping that weight off may reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by more than half. Combining weight loss with regular physical also may reduce your breast cancer risk.
You should try to maintain a healthy weight throughout your life to reduce your risk of breast and other cancers. Other lifestyle changes that may help include limiting your alcohol intake, quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet that includes lean meats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause. While HRT may help alleviate the symptoms of menopause, some studies show that HRT may increase the density of breast tissue, which reduces the effectiveness of mammograms. You and your doctor should discuss the risks and benefits of HRT and aim for the lowest effective dose for the shortest amount of time possible.
Regardless of your weight, regular mammograms can help doctors detect breast cancer in its earlier, more treatable stages.
For a Physician Referral, call St. Mary's Medical Center at (561) 882-9100.