Breast cancer risk increased by long-term weight gain

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A new study has revealed that requiring a skirt size increase every 10 years between the ages of 20 and 64, places a woman at a 33% higher risk of breast cancer during later life.

It is already known that weight gain is a risk factor for many types of cancer, but researchers based at University College London’s Department of Women’s Cancer, said that a growing waistline appeared to be most harmful.

Their findings have been based on the responses they received from 93000 over-50 females. The participants were asked to provide their current skirt size, and what it had been during their 20s, along with detailed information linked to other factors which may influence their cancer risk, such as family history and reproductive health.

The survey revealed that after taking into consideration the other factors, increases in skirt size was shown to be the strongest cancer risk predictor.

A 33% greater risk of getting cancer was associated with going up one skirt size every 10 years after the menopause and increasing by two skirt sizes in the same timescale, increased the risk to 77%.

Of the 93000 participants in the five-year study, 1090 developed breast cancer, which is an absolute risk of more than 1%.

The connection between weight gain and breast cancer is thought to be due to the female sex hormones, progesterone and oestrogen. These hormones occur naturally in the body, but higher levels can encourage the growth of breast cancers and additional fat is known to boost the levels of oestrogen.

The reason for weight gain around the waist placing women at particular risk is unknown. However, experts have stated that the focus on skirt size may prove to be a more useful monitor of weight gain and cancer risk, compared to the normal body mass index (BMI) measurement that is often used, as BMI is not really well understood.

The assistant director of research at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Simon Vincent, said that around 40% of breast cancers can be avoided if lifestyle changes, such as taking more exercise and maintaining a healthy weight, are implemented.

He said the study places focus on an easier method of monitoring weight gain, as women are more likely to remember their skirt size when they were younger, rather than their BMI.

Other cancers have already been linked to a growing waistline, including ovarian, uterine and pancreatic.

An increased BMI after the menopause is said to increase the breast cancer risk, however scientists are still developing the impact of weight gain at a younger age.

Around eight or nine in every 100 women aged over 50, with a BMI between 22.5 and 24.9, which is the upper levels of a healthy weight, will develop breast cancer.

However, those with a BMI of 30, which falls into the obese category, 11 or 12 in 100, will develop breast cancer. BMI can be calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres and dividing the result by height again.

In the UK, breast cancer is the most common cancer. Around one in eight women will be affected by the condition in their lifetime. Around 55000 people are diagnosed with the disease annually and approximately 12000 die of breast cancer every year.

Image Credit: Emilian Robert Vicol

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