In many articles on our website, we review the ongoing evidence that shows the clear link between obesity and breast cancer and weight loss and reduced cancer risk. The simple message in many of these research studies is, if you are a post-menopausal woman, weight loss and healthy diet will reduce your breast cancer risk. There is also another message. Cancer is a complexity. While weight loss and healthy diet are good lifestyle adaptations, they are only part of an overall health plan.
New research on the obesity, inflammation, and cancer connection
A June 2020 study published in the journal Cancers (1) found that: “Obesity is associated with an increased risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women and a worse prognosis for all major breast cancer subtypes regardless of menopausal status. While the link between obesity and the pathogenesis of breast cancer is clear, the molecular mechanism of this association is not completely understood due to the complexity of both obesity and breast cancer.”
Simply, we understand that there is a link between obesity, being overweight, and breast cancer, but to best address this doctors need to know that is the basis of this link.
The research team of this study suggested: “(the connect is) due to chronic adipose tissue inflammation. . . A better understanding of how obesity and adipose tissue inflammation affects the pathogenesis of breast cancer will lead to new strategies to reduce breast cancer risk and improve patient outcomes for obese patients.”
We have covered this important link between inflammation, obesity and breast cancer in our other articles.
In our article Inflammation Makes Breast Cancer – Anti-inflammatory Programs Can Stop It, we wrote that the control of inflammation is so significant in breast cancer survival that scientists continuously publish papers on identifying and mapping genes that “express” inflammatory factors that impact breast cancer patients. In this article not only do we discuss obesity but other problems linked to uncontrolled inflammation including: Stress management and stress hormones.
This research was cited in an August 2021 study (2) which suggested: “. . . obesity is associated with a greater probability of breast cancer. This association is mostly intensified in obese post-menopausal females who tend to develop estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer. Yet, independently to menopausal status, obese women achieve poorer clinical outcomes. (Research shows) that females above 50 years old with greater Body Mass Index (BMI) are at a greater risk of cancer compared to those with low BMI. Besides, (researchers have) observed that greater BMI is associated with more aggressive biological features of tumor including a higher percentage of lymph node metastasis and greater size. Obesity might be a reason for greater mortality rates and a higher probability of cancer relapse, especially in premenopausal women. Increased body fat might enhance the inflammatory state and affects the levels of circulating hormones facilitating pro-carcinogenic events.”
Even small amounts of weight loss can reduce breast cancer risk
A December 2019 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (3) from the Epidemiology Research Program, American Cancer Society examined the role of weight loss in reducing breast cancer risk in women over 50. The highlights of this research suggests that: sustained weight loss, even modest amounts, is associated with lower breast cancer risk for women aged over 50. Therefore, breast cancer prevention may be a strong weight loss motivator for the two-thirds of American women who are overweight or obese.
A January 2020 study from Poland discusses not only weight loss but dietary modifications that can help reduce breast cancer risk. Here is what this team of researchers wrote in the medical journal In vivo:(4)
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women around the world and the leading cause of cancer-related death among women. The knowledge about modifiable risk factors, such as diet, can be an acceptable, cheap and non-pharmacological prevention tool. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between dietary fat, dietary fatty acids, fish intake, and breast cancer in women.
This investigation revealed:
Consumption of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) in amounts over 10% of total energy (food) intake was associated with a significantly lower risk of breast cancer compared to low intake of polyunsaturated fats.
Low omega-3/ omega-6 ratio, fish consumption less than once every six months and being overweight were associated with increased risk of breast cancer.
The suggestion of this research is women should consider losing weight with a diet rich in healthy fats (10% of your daily calories) in the form of fish oils, as this diet may significantly decreased risk of breast cancer.
In December 2020 researchers wrote in the journal Nutrients (5) “Lifestyle habits, such as the consumption of a healthy diet, may prevent up to 30-50% of breast cancer cases. Dietary fats are of specific interest, as research provides strong evidence regarding the association of dietary fats and breast cancer. However, there is limited research on the role of different types of fats including polyunsaturated (PUFA), monounsaturated (MUFA), and saturated fatty acids (SFA).” In this study mice were fed different types of fatty acids to measure the impact these fats had, good or bad, on cancer development.
This is the outcome: “For simplicity, dietary studies often are a comparison of two different diets, which gives rise to a ‘good vs. bad’ dietary conclusion. By comparing all the major families of fatty acids together using enriched oils, this study was able to provide a relativistic view of their influence on breast cancer outcomes. In conclusion, marine-derived n-3 polyunsaturated best mitigates breast cancer outcomes compared to other dietary fatty acid examined in this study. Monounsaturated, Saturated fatty acids, and plant-derived n-3 polyunsaturated performed similarly and n-6 PUFA fed mice 10% safflower oil had the poorest breast cancer outcomes. Overall, these findings highlight the need to carefully consider the type of fatty acid in dietary lifestyle interventions for the prevention of breast cancer.
The simple message of these three studies is that weight loss and diet will help reduce breast cancer risk and that doctors should use this as a motivation to help women over the age of 50 maintain proper body weight. But there is a more complex message that should be offered.
Incorporating weight loss into a preventative health program
A November 2019 (6) study from the Imperial College London, St. Mary’s Campus, the University of Leeds, and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey reviewed the “complex associations between energy balance-related factors (how much food you take in compare to how much of that food you convert into energy) and breast cancer risk.”
In other words depending on your personal body make up, weight loss or maintaining proper body weight would be A key factor in preventing breast cancer or breast cancer recurrence, made stronger by incorporating weight loss into a preventative health program. Let’s explore this study for some suggestions on that healthy lifestyle:
In this study the doctors examined, physical activity, sedentary behavior, body mass index (BMI), waist and hip circumferences, waist-to-hip ratio, and weight change and pre- and postmenopausal breast cancer risk in 126 previously published studies comprising over 22,900 premenopausal and 103,000 postmenopausal breast cancer cases.
Higher physical activity was inversely associated with both pre- and postmenopausal breast cancers, whereas increased sitting time was positively associated with postmenopausal breast cancer. (The more physical activity the better, the more you sit, the worse).
Although higher early adult BMI (ages 18-30 years) was inversely associated with pre- and postmenopausal breast cancers, adult weight gain and greater body adiposity increased breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women, and the increased risk was evident for HR+ but not HR- breast cancers, and among never but not current users of postmenopausal hormones.
Let’s stop to explain.
If you were heavy in your younger years, 18-30 you would be at an increasing risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
BUT if you added more weight as you got older, this increased your risk for developing breast cancer.
A risk recurrence of breast cancer was made worse in women who were HR+ or Hormone Receptor Positive, meaning that their cancers would grow in response to message from either the estrogen or progesterone in their bodies. Add to that if you never took post-menopausal synthetic hormones or you are currently not taking post-menopausal synthetic hormones you had little to NO increased risk. So now we have a hormonal factor to understand.
Physical activity should be explored as a means to reduce breast cancer risk and to reduce inflammation
An October 2020 study (7) found that physical activity would not only reduce inflammation, but prevent reduced immunity. The researchers of this study wrote: “There is strong evidence that physical activity reduces risk, recurrence, and mortality from breast cancer. Emerging data suggest that physical activity induces changes in inflammatory and immune mediators that may contribute to beneficial effects on breast cancer outcomes.”
Reducing breast cancer risk
There are many factors that can reduce breast cancer risk. If you are overweight, weight reduction is a good start. However there are hormone issues, inflammatory factors, and other factors that can be addressed.
The complexity of weight in breast cancer risk is described in an August 2021 paper in the journal Frontiers in Oncology: (8)
“Excess weight is now pandemic and has replaced tobacco as the main lifestyle-related risk factor for premature death. Although the prevalence of obesity/overweight has increased globally over the last 50 years, the potential harm attributable to excess fat has generally been underestimated. The relationship between overweight/obesity, breast cancer and overall risk appears to be highly dependent on menopausal status. Thus, obesity increases the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women but, conversely, it appears to be protective in premenopausal women.”
As the authors of this study point out, a better understanding of the impact of body mass index and menopausal status on these clinical factors need some clarity into the inter-relationships involved in this controversial issue.
At the Magaziner Center for Wellness, our treatments are focused on reducing inflammation, enhancing the cellular immune response, and inactivating cancer stem cells since these are the cells that cause cancer recurrences and are much more harmful than the actual tumor cells—all with the goal of improving quality of life, strength and vigor, and extending life span. We place particular emphasis on an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle, and biologic agents that quiet the inflammatory pathways since inflammation has been found to foster the growth of cancer cells.
Most of our patients have already been through the rigors of conventional treatments but either experienced untoward side effects or unsatisfactory outcomes as the cancer continued to grow. The sooner we begin treatment, the better, since there is usually less damage to the immune system and to the vital organs. Your body then has a better chance to recover.
Our program emphasizes the concept of Thriving While Surviving. We strive to transform cancer from an acute disease into more of a chronic illness, one that can be lived with for many months or even years.
If you would like to explore more information, please contact our office so we can start a conversation with you.
1 Kolb R, Zhang W. Obesity and breast cancer: A case of inflamed adipose tissue. Cancers. 2020 Jun;12(6):1686.
2 Łukasiewicz S, Czeczelewski M, Forma A, Baj J, Sitarz R, Stanisławek A. Breast Cancer—Epidemiology, Risk Factors, Classification, Prognostic Markers, and Current Treatment Strategies—An Updated Review. Cancers. 2021 Jan;13(17):4287.
3 Teras LR, Patel AV, Wang M, Yaun SS, Anderson K, Brathwaite R, Caan BJ, Chen Y, Connor AE, Eliassen AH, et al. Sustained weight loss and risk of breast cancer in women ≥50 years: a pooled analysis of prospective data. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2019 Dec 13. pii: djz226. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djz226. [Epub ahead of print]
4 DYDJOW-BENDEK DO, ZAGOŹDŹON P. Total Dietary Fats, Fatty Acids, and Omega-3/Omega-6 Ratio as Risk Factors of Breast Cancer in the Polish Population–a Case-Control Study. In Vivo. 2020 Jan 1;34(1):423-31.
5 Hillyer LM, Hucik B, Baracuhy EM, Lin Z, Muller WJ, Robinson LE, Ma DW. Her-2 Breast Cancer Outcomes Are Mitigated by Consuming n-3 Polyunsaturated, Saturated, and Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Compared to n-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids. Nutrients. 2020 Dec;12(12):3901.
6 Chan DS, Abar L, Cariolou M, Nanu N, Greenwood DC, Bandera EV, McTiernan A, Norat T. World Cancer Research Fund International: Continuous Update Project—systematic literature review and meta-analysis of observational cohort studies on physical activity, sedentary behavior, adiposity, and weight change and breast cancer risk. Cancer Causes & Control. 2019 Nov 1:1-8.
7 Xu Y, Rogers CJ. Physical Activity and Breast Cancer Prevention: Possible Role of Immune Mediators. Frontiers in nutrition. 2020 Oct 8;7:180.
8 García-Estévez L, Cortés J, Pérez S, Calvo I, Gallegos I, Moreno-Bueno G. Obesity and Breast Cancer: A Paradoxical and Controversial Relationship Influenced by Menopausal Status. Frontiers in Oncology. 2021:3114.