Younger women who are obese have a 34 percent higher risk of dying from their breast cancer, a new study finds.
Doctors have long known that being overweight or obese raises a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, and they know it’s not especially good for women who have it, either. What’s not been clear is just how harmful it is, and whether a woman’s age or the type of cancer she has matters.
The new study, which will be presented next month at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, found that obesity is only significantly dangerous for women who get breast cancer before menopause and who have the type that’s fed by the hormone estrogen.
Hongchao Pan and colleagues at Britain’s University of Oxford looked at data on 80,000 women with breast cancer. They found that for the women who were already past menopause, and those who had so-called hormone-negative breast cancer, being obese didn’t matter.
But it did for the younger women with hormone-positive breast cancer — the most common kind.
“Despite everyone knowing the truth of this, the levels of overweight and obesity in the U.S. continue to climb,” said ASCO president Dr. Clifford Hudis. “Knowing that it is a negative health factor in so many domains is not yet an effective way of changing behavior.”
More than a third of American women are obese and another third are overweight.
Fat cells produce estrogen and this may be a factor. Breast cancer is the second-leading cancer killer among U.S. women, after lung cancer. Every year it's diagnosed in 200,000 women and a few men, and kills around 40,000.
First published May 14 2014, 1:46 PM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBC News and TODAY, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.