Weight Gain in Postmenopausal Woman and the Risk of Breast Cancer

Well, if you need a reason to lose weight and get into shape, here is a new motivation in the form of a health warning for women: being overweight increases one’s risk of developing breast cancer. The latest study, in the journal of the American medical association, shows that women who gain weight, especially after the menopause, are at a higher risk of breast cancer. Women who gained about 55 pounds or more since age 18 were at a 45 percent increased risk of breast cancer, compared with those who maintained their weight. Women who gained about 22 pounds or more since menopause were at an 18 percent increased risk of breast cancer. But weight loss after menopause lowers circulating estrogen hormones in women, and because estrogen is directly related to breast cancer, weight loss is thought to decrease risk of the disease.

Dr. Mary Gemignani, a breast surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, says, “What’s important about the study is they say it’s never too late. For women who have lost even 22 pounds after menopause they had a significant reduction in breast cancer risk equating to close to 50 percent. And even losing a smaller amount than that--ten pounds—was protective. The question is how, especially with a slowed metabolism in middle age.

Rachel Zinaman, a registered dietician at Memorial Sloan Kettering, says, “Eating small frequent meals. You don’t really want to go more than three to four hours with out food because that makes the metabolism slow down even more. The body starts to think it is starving and you start to hold on to calories. At the next meal, you’ll hold onto those calories even more tightly.” But what you eat also plays a role.

 “There are studies that have supported the role of low fat eating and reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence. It just means you’re choosing lean proteins more fish more chickens, beans, lentils,” says Ms. Zinaman. But what was most ideal was maintaining one’s weight with two to four pounds of where they’ve been for most of their adult lives.

“It’s always best to start healthy eating when you’re younger, and most likely if you can maintain your weight pre-menopause it’s going to be more beneficial later on,” Ms. Zinaman states. “I know it’s easy for us to go out and say that because its not a very easy thing to do, but it is an important intervention that has been shown to reduce breast cancer risk overall,” adds Dr. Gemignani.


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