Obesity and breast cancer: here is the link

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Written By Omph impha

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New research has revealed that breast cancer will cause one million deaths per year by 2040. Let us tell you about obesity, which is a risk factor for breast cancer.

Breast cancer has become the most common type of cancer in the world, according to new research, and deaths due to this disease are expected to reach one million per year by 2040. It has many risk factors, including obesity , which is a condition involving excess body fat. Obesity has often been linked to several health problems, such as type 2 diabetes. It also has links to a higher chance of breast cancer. Considering the new research, let’s take a look at the link between obesity and breast cancer.

What does new research say about breast cancer?

Breast cancer is now the most common type of cancer in the world, an April 2024 report from the Lancet Commission. It was found that approximately 7.8 million women were diagnosed with this disease in five years until the last quarter of 2020. The commission expects cases related to breast cancer to increase from 2.3 million in 2020 to more than 3 million in 2040 in the world. Deaths due to breast cancer are expected to reach one million per year by 2040, according to the commission.

Obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer. Image courtesy: Freepik

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a person’s breast cells. It usually starts in the milk ducts or lobules, which are the glands that produce milk, explains oncologist Dr Manish Sharma. Some risk factors for breast cancer include age, family history, hormone replacement therapy, alcohol consumption and obesity.

Does obesity increase the risk of breast cancer?

The chance of developing breast cancer increases in obese postmenopausal women, according to an analysis published in BMC Women’s Health in 2023. Obesity can increase the risk of breast cancer in several ways:

1. Hormonal changes

Adipose tissue or fat cells can produce estrogen, a hormone that plays a key role in the development and growth of certain types of breast cancer, such as estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) breast cancer, says the expert. In obese women, there is often an overproduction of estrogen due to increased adipose tissue, which can promote the growth of breast cancer cells.

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2. Insulin resistance

Obesity is associated with insulin resistance, a condition in which the body’s cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin. Insulin resistance can lead to higher levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the blood, which can promote the growth of cancer cells, including breast cancer cells.

3. Chronic inflammation

Obesity is characterized by a state of chronic low-grade inflammation, with elevated levels of inflammatory molecules in the bloodstream. Chronic inflammation can create an environment that promotes tumor growth and progression, including breast cancer.

4. Altered levels of adipokines

Adipose tissue secretes several bioactive molecules called adipokines, which can have many effects on the body, including inflammation, metabolism, and cell growth. In obese women, adipokine balance is often disturbed, with higher levels of pro-inflammatory adipokines and lower levels of anti-inflammatory adipokines. These altered levels of adipokines may contribute to the development and progression of breast cancer.

5. Changes in immune function

Obesity can affect immune system function, leading to changes in immune responses that can influence the development and progression of cancer. For example, obesity is associated with poor immune surveillance, which can allow cancer cells to avoid detection and elimination by the immune system, the expert shares.

6. Lifestyle Factors

Obesity is often associated with unhealthy lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, lack of physical activity and excessive alcohol consumption, which are risk factors for breast cancer. These lifestyle factors may interact with obesity to further increase breast cancer risk.

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Complications in obese women during breast cancer surgery

Women who may be obese and undergo surgery for breast cancer may face complications due to their weight. Some of these complications include:

1. Surgical complications

Obesity is associated with an increased risk of surgical complications, including wound infections, delayed wound healing, and dehiscence (reopening of wounds). Excess adipose tissue in obese women can make surgical procedures more technically challenging, leading to longer operative times.

A woman keeps her hands on her left breast to support breast cancer
There may be surgical complications in obese women with breast cancer. Image courtesy: Freepik

2. Increased risk of anesthesia-related complications

Obesity is a known risk factor for anesthesia-related complications such as respiratory complications (airway obstruction and hypoventilation), cardiovascular complications (hypertension and arrhythmia), and difficulty in administering anesthesia due to body habitus, says Dr. Sharma. Anesthesia management in obese women requires careful consideration and can present challenges for the anesthesia team.

3. Increased risk of blood clots

Obesity is a risk factor for venous thromboembolism (VTE), including deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). The surgery itself, along with the immobilization associated with the postoperative period, further increases the risk of blood clots.

What are the breast cancer treatment options for obese women?

Treatment options for breast cancer in obese women are generally similar to those for non-obese women. Here are some common breast cancer treatment options:

1. Surgery

Surgery is often the primary treatment for breast cancer and may involve breast-conserving surgery (mastectomy) or lumpectomy. In obese women, surgical planning may need to take into account factors such as increased adipose tissue, which may affect the technical aspects of the procedure, as well as the potential for increased surgical complications.

2. Radiotherapy

Radiation therapy is commonly used after breast-conserving surgery to reduce the risk of local recurrence. In obese women, treatment planning for radiotherapy may need to consider factors such as the distribution of adipose tissue to ensure accurate delivery of radiation, says the expert.

3. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy may be recommended for certain breast cancer patients, particularly those with more aggressive or advanced disease. Obesity can influence chemotherapy dosage and drug metabolism. Oncologists may need to adjust chemotherapy doses based on factors such as body surface area or ideal body weight.

4. Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy, also known as endocrine therapy, is a treatment for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. But obesity can affect hormone levels and metabolism, which can affect the effectiveness of hormone therapy.

Lifestyle modifications, including weight control, a healthy diet, and regular physical activity, can play a supportive role in breast cancer treatment.

Preventing obesity through lifestyle modifications and healthy habits can help reduce the risk of breast cancer.

So try to maintain a healthy weight by exercising, saying no to sedentary behavior, practicing portion control, and limiting your consumption of high-calorie, high-fat foods.

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