Two recently published studies, one from the the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and another from Umea University in Sweden look into the relationship between breast cancer and Body Mass Index (BMI), the measure of a person's fat based on their height and weight.
In the Texas study, researchers found that women who are overweight or obese when diagnosed with locally advanced breast cancer (LABC) face a higher chance of recurrence and a shorter life expectancy than either normal or underweight patients.
The researchers also found that obese patients are more likely than overweight, normal or underweight patients to be diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of locally advanced breast cancer, known as inflammatory breast cancer (IBC).
According to the study from Umea University, women who are overweight or have high blood sugar could be more at risk of developing aggressive breast cancer. Researchers looked specifically at how excess body fat and blood sugar levels affect the chance of developing different types of tumors.
The Umea study found that women had decreased risk of low-risk breast cancer if they were overweight or suffered high blood sugar (insulin resistance), but were at higher risk of more aggressive tumors.
Tanja Stocks, lead author on the study, said: "We believe this is the first study to find a link between blood sugar levels and the type of tumor. Hopefully now this will lead to more work on how things like body fat and blood sugar levels affect the type of tumor that develops, as well as a person's overall cancer risk."
Issues of weight and the relationship between excess body fat and health problems such as cancer and insulin resistance often seem impossible for the lay person to understand. What's really going on here? Why does overweight or obesity make someone more prone to serious forms of breast cancer (according to the study)? Why does insulin resistance? What can we do about it?
Here are some holistically-oriented articles I've found to be extremely helpful in better understanding these complex issues...
"Causes of Breast Cancer -- the estrogen controversy": Authored by Dixie Mills, MD from the Women to Women Clinic in Maine, this is a great "first look" article at the issues surrounding breast health and breast cancer. Estrogen's function in the body is examined as well as a summary of what medical experts know-- and don't know -- about what causes breast cancer.
"Insulin resistance in women" by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP, looks at the role the "major" hormone insulin plays in the body, what causes insulin to become less effective, insulin resistance and menopause, and how an insulin imbalance paves the ways for further imbalances with the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The article also explains how to detect insulin resistance symptoms and how to bring insulin levels under control through diet. Because studies are just now beginning to understand the complex connection between insulin imbalances and breast cancer, this is a must-read article on the topic.
Finally, both studies underscore the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. Another article from Marcelle Pick, this one describes a holistic approach to weight loss that gives advice about how to bring hormones back into balance as pounds are shed. The language used is positive and affirming.