Tag Archives: obesity and breast cancer

Breast Cancer Survivors – Overweight And Sedentary!

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

Breast Cancer Survivors – Overweight And Sedentary!

I chose that title to get your attention because I came across an interesting but fairly disturbing bit of information today while researching an article I’m writing about risk factors for breast cancer. With this article I hope to raise awareness of two things we are doing as breast cancer survivors that are not helping us in our bid to stay cancer free and then I’ll offer some suggestions and tips.

In the book “Improving Outcomes For Breast Cancer Survivors” published in 2015 1, the chapter titled Risk Reduction from Weight Management and Physical Activity Interventions indicates that many breast cancer survivors are overweight or obese, and were not engaging in the recommended levels of activity.

The actual figures were pretty disturbing – a whopping 65% of breast cancer survivors were deemed to be overweight or obese, and 30% were too sedentary. People, this is important!

Another new study published in the Gynecologic Oncology Journal in May 2015 indicated that inactivity and sedentary behavior were related to poorer health outcomes in breast cancer survivors. 2

Older studies confirm that postmenopausal women whose body mass index falls in the obese category have about twice the breast cancer risk of women with a body mass index in the normal range. 3

One study indicated that obesity increased breast cancer risk by as much as 58% in postmenopausal women, and was also associated with advanced disease, including larger tumor size, disease that had spread, and more deaths. 4

So why does being overweight or obese pose such a risk?

Here are some of the factors we know about:

1. Fat cells create estrogen and an overabundance of estrogen can cause hormonal imbalances within the body which trigger a whole cascade of problems.

2.  Fat cells also release inflammatory factors which are associated with insulin resistance, both of which can increase breast cancer risk.

3. Emotional factors – being overweight and/or obese carries with it a whole range of emotional and self-esteem issues and negative ways of thinking which are also considered to be risk factors for breast cancer.

Fortunately, with a few key lifestyle changes this is something we can address and improve. If you have already had breast cancer once, you know for certain you don’t want it back again, so anything than can be done to reduce the risk of recurrence is well worth pursuing.

Helpful Tips If You Are Overweight and Sedentary

1.  Exercise – it’s never too late to begin. When we exercise, we bring fresh oxygen into our bodies and cancer hates oxygenated tissues. Lack of exercise and oxygen is the environment in which cancer loves to thrive. If you have disliked exercise in the past, stop thinking of it as a chore and think of it as your “pro-life” choice.  Find new ways of exercising that you love – join a fun dance class, learn to paddle a canoe, get a friend or grandchild and walk in beautiful places, find new ways to move. Do something different every day if you like variety, but get your body moving, at least 30 minutes per day.

2.  Get some help. The factors contributing to food addiction, obesity and weight gain go deeper than you might suspect. As one study put it, overeating was “a substitute gratification in reaction to intolerable life situations.” If you have tried to lose weight in the past and it hasn’t worked, try working with a counselor. Because being overweight and/or obese generally involves emotional issues, working with a counselor to begin to gently heal the emotional factors and to understand why you eat the way you do can be so empowering and can greatly increase your chances of success.

3.  Check out www.foodaddicts.org.  They are an international fellowship of men and women who have problems with food addictions. Their program of recovery is based on the twelve-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous. There are no fees, dues or weigh-ins at FA meetings. Membership is open to anyone who wants help with food.

4. Try hypnosis.  A well-trained hypnotherapist can help you to change your thinking, get to the bottom of the problem and create a whole new relationship with food and with your body. A few of my friends have done this and found that hypnosis definitely helped with weight loss.

5. Get your doctor or naturopath involved. He or she may have some very helpful weight loss suggestions for you. Naturopaths in particular know which nutrients help to curb food cravings, and which foods make you feel more full but don’t contribute to weight gain.

If you have any helpful tips or hints about weight loss, feel free to share them in the comments section, and I sincerely hope this has helped you.


1.  Risk Reduction from Weight Management and Physical Activity Interventions – http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-319-16366-6_13

2. Physical activity and sedentary behavior in breast cancer survivors: New insight into activity patterns and potential intervention targets –   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26026737

3.  Obesity and Breast Cancer Risk –http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/FactSheet/diet/fs56.obesityBCRisk.cfm

4.  Overweight, Obesity, and Postmenopausal Invasive Breast Cancer Risk: A Secondary Analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Clinical Trials – http://oncology.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2319235

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The Problem With Obesity and Breast Cancer

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / Stuart Miles

The Problem With Obesity and Breast Cancer

A study done by the University of Colorado Denver in December 2012, titled Obesity and Overfeeding Affecting Both Tumor and Systemic Metabolism Activates the Progesterone Receptor to Contribute to Postmenopausal Breast Cancer, was recently forwarded to me by a friend (since I both hail from Colorado and am a breast cancer coach) and several things in the study seemed worth sharing.

Study Searches For Reason Why Obesity Increases Breast Cancer Risk

The researchers were searching for an explanation of why obese, postmenopausal women are at greater risk for developing breast cancer, and also why their cancers tend to be more aggressive than those in leaner women.  The study was done on animals, but did open some insights as to why this could be happening.

The lead author of the study, Dr Erin Giles, stated “By using nutrient tracers for fat and sugar, we tracked where the body stored excess calories. In lean models, excess fat and glucose were taken up by the liver, mammary and skeletal tissues.  In obese models, excess fat and glucose were taken up by tumors, fueling their growth.”

I found this interesting because it implies that menopausal women might very well be able to control their breast cancer risk through weight management, something we’ve often been told. 

It also reminded me of another study I recently heard about where women who had received the traditional therapies for breast cancer were followed to see how they fared after those treatments.  They were split into 4 groups: (1) those who did nothing special after their treatments ended; (2) those who made the effort to eat 5 fruits and vegetables per day; (3) those who didn’t bother with the fruit and vegetables but who did exercise 30 minutes per day, 5 times per week; and (4) those who ate 5 fruits and vegetables per day AND exercised 30 minutes per day.  The group that fared much better than the other three, as you might imagine, was the 4th group, the group that ate the fruits and vegetables and exercised.  I don’t have access to the title of this study, but it is discussed by Dr David Servan-Schreiber in his video Natural Defenses In Preventing and Treating Cancer (see link below).

Progesterone Receptor Cancers More Aggressive

Back to the University of Colorado study.  The other interesting thing I read was that tumors from obese animals “exhibited increased levels of progesterone receptors, and that this receptor appeared to give tumors a metabolic advantage for growth.  To extend their findings to humans, they recruited gene analysis experts David Astling and Aik-Choon Tan who analyzed 585 human breast cancers and found that human tumors expressing the progesterone receptor had the same metabolic advantage.”

Dr Giles said, “Basically, we saw an abnormal metabolic response to fat and sugar in the obese that, in many ways, mirrors the response to fat and sugar in Type II diabetes.”  The researchers then tested the use of Metformin, a common Type II diabetes drug, with their test subjects and noted a dramatic decrease in tumor size, as well as reduced expression of the progesterone receptor.

This definitely piqued my interest because my own tumor had only progesterone receptors on it – no estrogen receptors – which is not the norm.  Because of this, many of my treatment providers, both conventional and alternative, were a little puzzled on how to proceed with my treatments.  I wasn’t obese, nor was I menopausal when I found my tumor, however.

Obesity and Weight Gain During Menopause Spells Trouble

The researchers found that weight gain during menopause is particularly detrimental for those who are obese and that the combination of obesity and weight gain during menopause can impact breast cancer in two ways:

1.  Tumors in obese women appear to have a metabolic advantage;

2.  The inability to store excess calories in healthy tissues may further fuel tumor growth.

Dr Giles said “While drugs may be useful in controlling breast cancer risk in obese, postmenopausal women, our results imply that a combination of diet and exercise may be equally if not more beneficial.”   The study to which Dr Servan-Schreiber referred in his video (referenced above) certainly implied that to be the case. 

So here’s what we can take away from these two studies:

1.  Women struggling with obesity as they enter menopause are at a higher risk of breast cancer;

2.   Those who are obese and do get breast cancer tend to have tumors that have a metabolic advantage, meaning they tend to grow more quickly and be more aggressive;

3.  A combination of good diet – incorporating plenty of fruits and vegetables – together with 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 times per week, had a very protective effect.

So it appears that the old adage is true – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  We need to keep our weight at a healthy level, not only in our earlier years, but particularly as we enter menopause.   Those are not the only things that will protect us from breast cancer, but a combination of diet and exercise is a good start.  To find out which fruits and vegetables give you the best protection, visit my page Diet and Cancer


E. D. Giles, E. A. Wellberg, D. P. Astling, S. M. Anderson, A. D. Thor, S. Jindal, A.-C. Tan, P. S. Schedin, P. S. MacLean. Obesity and Overfeeding Affecting Both Tumor and Systemic Metabolism Activates the Progesterone Receptor to Contribute to Postmenopausal Breast Cancer. Cancer Research, 2012; 72 (24): 6490 DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-12-1653

Natural Defenses In Preventing And Treating Cancer (YouTube video – 58:21)

If you would like to learn how to protect yourself and decrease  your risk of getting breast cancer,  please sign up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right, and/or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com).