Being overweight or obese can impact your health in numerous ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control, being overweight or obese can lead to heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep apnea, arthritis, infertility and even some types of cancer, including breast cancer.
An estimated one out of every three cancer deaths in the U.S. is linked to excess body weight, poor nutrition and/or physical inactivity. Overweight or obesity is a contributing factor in as many as one in every five cancer-related deaths.
Understanding the Link Between Body Weight and Breast Cancer
Post-menopausal women who are overweight may be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Why? The links between weight and cancer aren’t fully understood, but studies have shown an increased risk of breast cancer in overweight women after menopause. So far, a correlation has not been found between excess body weight and breast cancer in women before menopause.
Excess body weight affects various body systems and mechanisms, and the effect of weight on these systems may increase risk of some cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, excess body weight might affect:
- Immune system function and inflammation
- Levels of certain hormones, such as insulin and estrogen
- Factors that regulate cell growth
- Proteins that influence how the body uses certain hormones
Losing Weight to Lower Your Cancer Risk
There is growing evidence that weight loss may reduce the risk of breast cancer and some other cancers after menopause. In addition to reducing cancer risk, losing weight can lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Studies have also found a link between regular exercise and lower risk of cancer recurrence.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women—both those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and those who haven’t—get about four to five hours of moderate intensity exercise (such as brisk walking) per week.
It isn’t just about exercising to lose excess weight. Women who exercised regularly and then stopped exercising did not show a reduced risk of breast cancer. So bottom line: get moving and don’t stop!
If you find it difficult to squeeze an hour of exercise into your day, try breaking it up into 20 or 30-minute sessions. The important thing is that you get four to five hours of exercise per week, not how long you exercise at one time.
Regular exercise—along with eating a healthy diet and making healthy lifestyle choices—is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of a first-time breast cancer diagnosis or cancer recurrence.