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Obesity Can Hinder Breast Cancer Treatment


From 1989 to 2006, there was a 30% decline in the death rate from breast cancer. That trend may be threatened by the increase in obese women, according to the report Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2009-2010, released this week by the American Cancer Society.

Since 1999, breast cancer rates have steadily declined by an average of 2% per year. The ACS attributes this to increased awareness, early testing through mammogram, improved treatment options, and the decline in hormone replacement therapy used for menopause.

About 30% of people in the US are obese, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Weight gain, especially after menopause, is a risk factor for the development of breast cancer. Women who gain 22 pounds or more after menopause face an 18% increase in risk for breast cancer. In addition, obese women are often diagnosed later in the disease progression than normal weight women, because of difficulty finding lumps on self-examinations and through mammograms.

Healthy eating habits and increased physical activity could reduce cancer mortality in the United States by as much as 30%, according to the fact sheet “Nutrition and Cancer”, issued by the American Cancer Society. Adopting a plant based diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, while reducing intake of saturated fat and added sugars, has been shown to reduce the likelihood of the development of many types of cancerous tumors.

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The ACS also recommends that women get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on at least five days out of the week. Engaging in 45-60 minutes a day may further enhance reductions in the risk of both breast and colon cancers.

Preventative screening for breast cancer is also important in the early detection and improved survival rate. Yearly mammograms and breast exams are recommended for all women 40 and older. Self-exams and clinical breast exams with a physician are recommended for women beginning in their early 20s. Breast cancer has a 98% five-year survival rate when the tumors are caught early with regular screenings.

Obesity can hinder the effectiveness of mammogram readings. Obese women have a 20% increased chance of being recalled for further testing because of invalid readings, according to research reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It is estimated that each false positive mammogram because of obesity costs the healthcare system an extra $600.

The American Cancer Society data reports that 70% of insured women over 40 have had a mammogram in the last 2 years. However, only 33% of uninsured females have had one. The Breast Cancer Education Project was created to address the needs of medically underserved women in many communities across the country to provide free mammograms for those without insurance. In addition, the American Breast Cancer Foundation offers the “Key to Life” Breast Cancer Screening Assistance Program that provides financial assistance for preventative screenings.

In 2009, it is estimated that over 190,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, accounting for one out of every four new cancer diagnoses.

Sources: American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and the American Breast Cancer Foundation.