October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Small changes can have a big and meaningful effect. This is, in many ways, the foundation of what I teach my patients. Changing small habits in your day to day life can have a huge impact on not only your weight, but also your quality of life and risk of disease. It can even add years to your life.

As you know, the reduced risks of heart disease and diabetes from weight loss are without parallel. Losing 10 percent or more body weight leads to lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, fewer markers of vascular inflammation, reduces sleep apnea and improves osteoarthritis symptoms.

A new study found that 10 percent of all gallbladder, kidney, liver, and colon cancers could be attributed to excess weight. A whopping 41 percent of uterine cancers were tied to obesity, according to the study published in The LancetCancer of uterus is 5 times more common in women who are obese.

Since October is breast cancer awareness month, let’s take a closer look at the effects of obesity on this particular cancer. It seems like most people either have had breast cancer or know someone who’s had breast cancer. It’s incredibly common.

In fact, one in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime, a risk that increases with age and weight. Post-menopausal women account for about 80 percent of all cases.

We know there are genetic reasons, we know there are lots of things we don’t understand but the connection between post-menopausal breast cancer and weight loss and exercise has become unmistakable.

There have been studies over the past couple of years that have collected data from more than 70,000 women over the course of two or three decades demonstrating that physical activity is an amazingly significant way to lower the risk for breast cancer.

Researchers from the American Cancer Society have found that walking at least 7 hours per week at a moderate pace – about 3 miles per hour – is associated with a 14 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer after menopause. The most active women – those who walked and did more vigorous exercise – had a 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to the least active.

Even exercising 1.5 to 2.5 hours per week lowers the risk of breast cancer significantly. How can just a few pounds make such a difference? Fat is more than a little extra padding from overindulgence. It actually increases blood levels of hormones, such as estradiol and testosterone that are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. “Women who have high levels [of these hormones] have at least twice the risk of getting breast cancer compared with women who have very low levels,” explains author Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD, of a study from the Prevention Center at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Breast cancer is associated with obesity in post-menopausal women and losing just 10 percent of weight along with modest physical activity can lower the risk by 50 percent.

Both weight loss and exercise each have benefits, but together, the effect is greater. It seems to balance estrogen levels and reduce insulin resistance, reducing inflammation.

Keep this in mind when all of the small habits you are changing daily seem difficult or overwhelming. The greater effect on your life and health is beyond measure.


Citations: Recreational Physical Activity and Leisure-Time Sitting in Relation to Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk. Published early online October 4, 2013 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention. First author Janet S. Hildebrand, MPH, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

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