Weight gained after 50 linked to breast cancer

Study finds risk rises 62% if woman adds 24 pounds, drops with permanent loss

August 10, 2005|By Roni Rabin | Roni Rabin,NEWSDAY

Women who gained more than 24 pounds after age 50 increased their risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by 62 percent compared with women whose weight was stable, regardless of baseline weight, according to a study from the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project.

Women who had gained more than 33 pounds since age 20 were similarly at a 60 percent increased risk for postmenopausal disease, but it was the extra pounds put on after 50 that appeared to play a more significant role, study author Marilie D. Gammon said.

"Weight gain after 50 was worst for you in terms of breast cancer risk," said Gammon, the principal investigator and a professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "This is important because your risk of breast cancer continues to climb in the U.S. as you age, and maintaining stable weight can help."

The paper on weight gain, which analyzed data from almost 2,000 Long Island women, was published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

There was good news for women who had successfully lost weight as adults - or after age 20. They had a 45 percent decreased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, compared with women whose weight remained stable.

The findings of the study, which compared 990 Long Island women with breast cancer with 1,006 disease-free women, are consistent with findings from other studies that have linked weight gain during adulthood or obesity with an increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, experts said. The breast cancer study was conducted from 1996 to 1997.

Gammon said fat tissue contains enzymes that convert other hormones into estrogen, and estrogen has long been linked to increased breast cancer risk. After menopause, a woman's estrogen levels drop, Gammon said, but if she has additional fat tissue, she has "another source of estrogen you wouldn't have if you were thin."

Recently, a study found that eating a low-fat diet and losing weight can even improve the prospects after breast cancer occurs, said Dr. Larry Norton, deputy physician in chief of the breast cancer program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

The latest findings grew out of the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project, a multidisciplinary collaboration to identify environmental risk factors for breast cancer, funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Alcohol intake is also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. But many risk factors, such as family history, age of menopause and childbearing history, cannot be modified.

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