Obesity May Increase Breast Cancer Risk

"If you're obese and postmenopausal, you have a 50 to 70 percent greater chance of developing breast cancer than those who haven't gone through menopause," said Dr. Fernando Bonanni, Director of the Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery at Abington Memorial Hospital.

And there are three reasons why this happens.

For one, obesity simply weakens the immune system and consequently makes it harder to fight off disease.

"The body is designed with a heart, muscles, lungs, an immune system, etc. that are designed with reserves to fight disease," said Dr. Bonanni. "However when a person is obese, all systems are overloaded."

In addition to breast cancer, those struggling with obesity are also more likely to get a number of other types of cancer, such as prostate and colon cancer.

The second reason why postmenopausal women are more likely to develop breast cancer is due to the availability of estrogen that's stored in fat. According to Dr. Bonanni, fat stores estrogen and then breaks it down into byproducts that stimulate breast tissue. As a result, this makes women more susceptible to cancer.

But where your body stores fat is also important. "Women who have central obesity-people who are obese in the abdomen-are more likely to store estrogen in their fat," said Dr. Bonanni.

Lastly, statistics show that women who are obese are less likely to get screened for breast cancer, and if they do, it's often too late.

The impact of obesity on a woman's health doesn't end there.

"Obese patients are more likely to have more aggressive cancer that is more likely to spread to their lymph nodes," said Dr. Bonanni.

He advises women struggling with obesity to find sensitive caregivers and get screened for breast cancer.

Additionally, Dr. Bonanni emphasized the need to start eating right and getting down to a healthy weight. For more information on how to make these vital lifestyle changes, be sure to speak with your physician.
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