Weight gain linked to breast cancer death

February 2, 2005 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Weight gain linked to breast cancer death

Women who are overweight when diagnosed with breast cancer or who become overweight after learning of their condition are more likely to die or have the disease come back, researchers report.

The effect is particularly strong among nonsmokers, the team at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School found. Women who had never smoked and who were overweight were nearly twice as likely to die of breast cancer than nonsmokers who were normal weight, the researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. And breast cancer patients who gained more than an average of 17 pounds (8 kg) were 1.5 times more likely to have a cancer recurrence or to die, the researchers found.

Although other studies have linked fat mass with breast cancer risk, this one was more in-depth by separating smokers and nonsmokers.

Kroenke and colleagues studied 5,204 breast cancer patients over 24 years who were taking part in the larger Nurses' Health Study. They used body mass index or BMI -- the ratio of a person's height in meters to their weight in kilograms -- to classify women as overweight. A BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 marks a person as obese.

Researchers suggest women recently diagnosed with breast cancer or at high risk for the disease should take steps to maintain a healthy weight to reduce the risk of recurrence and death.

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