Guest Author - A. Maria Hester, M.D.
Obesity is far more lethal than most women realize. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing all types of gynecologic cancers, including breast cancer, cervical cancer, endometrial cancer, and ovarian cancer.
A study published in CANCER, a journal of the American Cancer Society, revealed that women who gain weight in adulthood have a higher lifetime risk of developing all types of breast cancer than women who do not. This risk is independent of their use of hormone replacement therapy. The study further found that the more weight a woman gains as an adult, the higher her risk for all stages of the disease, especially advanced breast cancer.
As a matter of fact, women who were extremely obese were found to be up to three times more likely to have metastatic breast cancer when compared to their counterparts who gained less weight. One proposed theory for this association is that the risk of breast cancer is linked to the lifetime levels of circulating estrogen. Since fat tissue increases the amount of circulating estrogen, excessive fat increases the risk of breast cancer.
Another study, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II found that menopausal women who are obese and overweight are more likely to die from breast cancer than those who maintain a normal weight. Mortality rates from breast cancer increased continually with increasing body mass index. As a matter of fact, death rates from breast cancer were approximately twice as high in obese women compared to lean women. In the final analysis, researchers concluded that 30 to 50 percent of the deaths from breast cancer among postmenopausal women in the United States of America may be a result of being overweight and obese.
“Because overweight and obese women are at increased risk of both getting breast cancer and dying from their disease, it is essential that these women have regular mammograms,” said Eugenia Calle, PhD, director of analytic epidemiology at the Society and one of the authors of the study.
Breast cancer is not the only cancer that increases in obese and overweight women. The risk of dying from ovarian cancer is also higher in this group of women. According to the American Cancer Society, obese women are 25 percent more likely to diet of ovarian cancer compared to women of normal weight. Again, the impact of fat tissue on circulating estrogen levels is felt to play a key role.
The story does not end there. According to the National Cancer Institute, being overweight could significantly increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical adenocarcinoma, one type of cervical cancer. Finally, evidence suggests that being obese triples a woman’s risk of developing endometrial cancer and being overweight doubles the risk.
The bottom line is that while not everyone can be a size 3 or 4, everyone can do her best to eat a healthful diet full of fruits and vegetables. Everyone can work a little harder to cut back on junk food and high fat foods if that is her weakness. Everyone can afford to exercise a little more and relax a little less. Everyone can do a little more of something. Remember, your very life may just depend on that little bit more.
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