July 24, 2015 | by Jeanne Kelley
As breast cancer survivors know, the disease's impact lingers in ways both big and small long after treatment has ended. A new study suggests that weight gain – and a possible corresponding increase in heart disease and diabetes risk – may be part of that impact.
In the first study to evaluate weight change in women with a family history of breast cancer, those who had survived breast cancer were found to gain more weight than women who remained cancer-free. The research, comparing 303 breast cancer survivors with 307 cancer-free women matched by age and menopausal status, was published July 15 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
According to the study, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath in Baltimore, breast cancer survivors gained significantly more weight than their cancer-free counterparts in the first five years after diagnosis – an average of about 4 pounds. Women who had been diagnosed with estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer gained an average of 7 pounds more than women who had never had cancer.
Further, women who had received chemotherapy were twice as likely, compared to cancer-free women, to have gained at least 11 pounds. The findings raise new questions about life after cancer and how to better prepare women for new challenges and risks.
Laura Kruper, M.D., director of the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women's Health Center at City of Hope and head of breast surgery service, put the findings in perspective in an interview with HealthDay.
“It would seem that chemotherapy and other breast cancer treatments have a significant effect on metabolism in patients undergoing treatment for breast cancer,” said Kruper, who was not involved with the study but who provided expert commentary on the findings.
The take-home message, Kruper said, may be that both doctors and patients need to pay close attention to weight gain, which can increase not only the risk of heart diseases and diabetes, but also cancer recurrence.
The researchers said they hope the findings will provide support for the development of weight gain interventions for young breast cancer survivors with a family history the disease.
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