The Skinny on Body Weight and Breast Cancer
POSTED BY Pink Ribbon Cooking / July 9, 2015
Maintaining a healthy diet and weight is important for everyone. But, what relationship, if any, does weight have with breast cancer risk?
The key point though appears to be whether someone is pre- or post-menopause according to Dr. Karen Basen-Engquist, professor of behavioral science and the director of the Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
“Body fatness is related to an increased risk of breast cancer that develops after menopause,” Basen-Engquist says. “However, excess weight is not associated with increased risk of developing breast cancer before menopause and may even be slightly protective.”
"Substituting a lean protein food, such as mushrooms, for a steak is a great way to include more phytochemicals and phytonutrients in your meal and cut down on some calorie dense food choices." - Chef Curtiss
Some evidence suggests that where you carry your fat may affect your risk with the fat around your mid-section potentially leading to a greater risk of post-menopausal breast cancer. For women undergoing treatment, there may even be a connection between the premature menopause that is often brought on by chemotherapy and weight gain.
“Women do tend to gain weight after breast cancer diagnosis and one possible reason is that premenopausal women who receive chemotherapy often have premature menopause,” Basen-Engquist says. “The menopausal transition is associated with weight gain.
She is quick to add that there are other possible explanations for weight gain such as a decrease in physical activity often seen during treatment or stress-related eating.
“Eating for reasons other than hunger, such as to cope with stress, or to make yourself feel better by eating comfort foods can make it difficult to maintain or lose weight,” Basen-Engquist says. “Before you pick up that fork, think about your reasons for eating and rate your hunger. If you’re hungry it makes sense to eat, but if you’re eating because you’re stressed, try to do something else to relieve the stress.”
To help manage weight, women should consider a diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and low in fat and refined grains and sugars.
"Roasting carrots will bring out more of the carrots natural sweetness (avoiding added sugars) while adding variety to the ways you can enjoy more vegetables" - Chef Curtiss
Exercise will not only help improve symptoms such as fatigue and nausea often experienced during treatment, but can also provide benefits after treatment ends as well.
"Walking is a great way to begin to include exercise in your day. The University of Vermont Cancer Center offers a free rehab program, Steps to Wellness, that serves the unique needs of those living with cancer." - Chef Curtiss
“Several observational studies that have followed breast cancer survivors over time have found that those who are more physically active have a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence and death,” Basen-Engquist says. “Staying active can also help breast cancer patients in their efforts to manage their weight. In particular, for survivors who lose weight (intentionally) exercise is key to helping them maintain their weight.”
John Lahtinen is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor who has written about policy, personalities, trends and new technology in the healthcare arena.