Women who gain the most weight over their lifetime are most likely to develop breast cancer after menopause, new study findings from the Alberta Cancer Board suggest. Being overweight after menopause is also a risk factor. Extra pounds seem to be particularly risky when they are carried around the abdomen.
A woman's shape and weight have been thought to influence her risk of breast cancer, but the evidence has not been conclusive. To evaluate the possible connection, the Canadian researchers compared 1,233 women with breast cancer and a control group of 1,237 women who did not have the disease.
Among premenopausal women, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio and weight gain during adulthood did not affect the risk of cancer. But a woman's shape and weight did affect the risk of breast cancer after menopause. Women with the highest waist-to-hip ratio, meaning that they carried more weight around the abdomen, were 43% more likely to have breast cancer than women with the lowest ratio.
Gaining weight as an adult also seemed to make women more susceptible to breast cancer, the report indicates. Women who gained the most weight since age 20 (25 kilograms, or about 55 pounds, or more) were 35% more likely to develop breast cancer than those who had gained the least (less than 7.8 kg, or about 17 pounds).
The effects of hormone replacement therapy on the risk of breast cancer are controversial, but the present study suggests that hormone therapy may diminish some of the increased risk brought about by weight gain or extra pounds around the waist. The link between all measures of body weight and size and the risk of cancer was stronger in women who had never used hormone replacement therapy, according to the report.
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