Obesity and Breast Cancer

Maintaining a healthy weight makes a difference when it comes to breast cancer:

  • Being obese or overweight after menopause can increase your risk of breast cancer by as much as 30-60 percent.
  • Being overweight or gaining weight after breast cancer diagnosis may increase the risk of cancer coming back (recurrence).
  • Breast cancer survivors who are overweight tend to have a lower survival rate and quality of life.

The higher risk of breast cancer for women who gain weight is likely due to high levels of estrogen in the body. Fat cells make estrogen; extra fat cells result in more estrogen in the body and estrogen can make certain types of breast cancers develop and grow.

Still, the link between extra weight and breast cancer is complicated and affected by other factors. For example, the location of the extra weight matters. Extra fat around the belly area may increase risk more than the same amount of extra fat around the thighs or hips. In addition, weight affects the risk for pre- and postmenopausal women differently.

Exercise is one way to help maintain a healthy weight, though the benefits of exercise go beyond just weight loss. Women who get regular exercise may have a lower risk of getting breast cancer, a better chance of surviving breast cancer and a lower risk of having cancer recur. Regular exercise can also increase positive mood and improve physical condition, which in turn can enhance quality of life.

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