Losing Weight After Breast Cancer Treatment
Weight Gain and Breast Cancer
Research has already made a clear connection between obesity and breast cancer. But now a new study shows that weight gain over time also ups breast cancer risk.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Research has shown that being obese increases the risk of breast cancer, providing motivation for women to work diligently to drop unhealthy pounds and get fit. Now new studies show that there's more to the overweight-breast cancer connection than just being obese — even slow weight gain over a period of years increases a woman's breast cancer risk.
Studies show that post-menopausal obese women — based on their body mass index or BMI — have about double the breast cancer risk of women with a healthy body weight. Of course, when you factor in other risk factors like family history, taking hormone replacement therapy, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, breast cancer risk rises even more.
As researchers delved deeper into the relationship between weight and breast cancer, they discovered something startling — that if you gain weight as you age, your breast cancer risk rises even if you arenotobese.
What Weight Gain Does
A study of 72,000 women who did not take any hormone therapy medication after menopause (itself a risk factor for breast cancer) found that women who had gained about 30 pounds in as many years were at twice the risk of developing breast cancer as women who had maintained their weight.
What's even more interesting is that these women didn't have to be obese to have an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk increased due to weight gain alone, even if the women never reached the definition of obesity, which is having a BMI of greater than 30.
Researchers don't yet fully understand how or why weight gain increases breast cancer risk, though it could be due to excess estrogen production that could result from increased body fat.
Preventing Weight Gain
What's clear from all the research surrounding breast cancer risk, weight gain, and obesity is that maintaining a healthy body weight throughout your life can significantly decrease your risk of developing breast cancer.
But that's often easier said than done. Here are some tips to help you prevent weight gain:
- Make healthy living a habit.Forget dieting and wacky food choices, or starving and then overindulging. Eat plenty of healthy foods — lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains — while limiting desserts, high-fat foods, and alcohol.
- Keep your caloric intake consistent.Sure, a special occasion like a holiday or birthday might call for a slice of cake or a decadent meal. But for the most part, monitor how many calories you eat each day and keep your daily calories consistent.
- Make exercise your favorite hobby.Exercise and physical activity need to become part of your regular schedule. Stay committed to hitting the gym or working out most days of the week. Also, make exercise fun — learn a new sport, take a class that you enjoy like yoga or martial arts, or start hiking, biking, or swimming. Just make sure you get 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity of any kind as many days of the week as possible.
- Weigh yourself often.It's much easier to lose a pound or two than 10, which can happen easily if you don't check very often. So step on the scale frequently. That way, your weight gain can't get away from you.
Preventing weight gain may not be easy, but it is an important step you can take to reduce your breast cancer risk — and it's within your control.
Video: Losing Weight After Breast Cancer Treatment
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