Here’s Why Obesity Raises Breast Cancer Risk, According to Science

Could keeping an eye on the scale help lessen your chances of breast cancer?

obesitySuzanne Tucker/Shutterstock
Experts have long known that obesity, along with smoking, age, lack of activity, and lifestyle can contribute to an increased risk of cancer, but a recent study is taking a closer look at how one of these conditions specifically relates to breast cancer. Based on their findings, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) are one step closer to understanding how obesity can influence or increase one’s risk for breast cancer. (Find out other things that increase your risk of cancer.)

Their study is the first to provide evidence that obesity can alter the genes involved in our body’s inflammatory response, hereditary disorders, and other immunological diseases. The team, made of geneticists, cell biologists, medical oncologists, and epidemiologists looked at gene expression analysis of tissue samples collected from 121 women with no history of breast cancer. All women participating in the study were undergoing breast reduction and 51 participants were considered clinically obese.

For the study, the team closely examined the obesity and inflammation response, finding 308 genes important in the process. Of the 308 genes discovered, 240 were more likely to have sporadic mutations and low gene expression in obese women while 68 genes were shown to have a decreased risk for gene mutations and high gene expression. All of the participants’ affected genes were involved in diseases and disorders for inflammatory response, hereditary disorder and immunological disease.

“Different types of breast cancer could be affected differently by obesity, a more robust understanding of how obesity triggers inflammatory cancer pathways and increases breast cancer risk could help us develop better chemoprevention strategies or early prevention strategies in women at increased risk based on their weight,” said Peter Shields, MD, senior author of the AACR abstract and deputy director of the OSUCCC – James in a press release.

Along with watching your weight, there are additional ways women and men can decrease their chances of breast cancer, including taking a daily baby aspirin and cutting back on the amount of alcohol you drink. While researchers hope future studies can examine the genes identified by this study in participants that develop breast cancer later, here is what you need to know right now about the best ways to prevent breast cancer.

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