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Breast cancer risk rises with postmenopausal weight gain

  Gaining weight in adulthood increases a woman's risk of breast cancer, study findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicate.

"These data suggest that weight gain during adult life, specifically since the menopause, increases the risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women, whereas weight loss after menopause is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer," A Heather Eliassen (Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA) and co-authors comment.
  "Thus, in addition to other known benefits of healthy weight, our results provide another reason for women approaching menopause to maintain or lose weight, as appropriate."

The team examined data from the Nurses' Health Study, with weight gain since age 18 years determined in 87,143 women and since menopause in 49,514 women, who were followed-up for a maximum of 26 and 24 years, respectively.

The researchers found that women who gained at least 25 kg since age 18 years were 45% more likely to develop breast cancer than those who maintained their weight, with the relative risk rising to 1.98 for those who had never taken postmenopausal hormone therapy.

  Furthermore, 10 kg or greater weight gain since the menopause was linked to an 18% increased risk, compared with weight maintenance. In contrast, among women who had never used hormone replacement therapy, losing and maintaining at least 10 kg of weight since the menopause reduced breast cancer risk by 57%.

Thus, up to 15% of breast cancer cases in the overall study population were attributable to weight gain of 2.0 kg or more since age 18, and 4.4% were linked to a similar gain since menopause, the team states.

For women who had not taken postmenopausal hormones, the corresponding attributable risks were 24.2% and 7.6%.

"Although weight loss less to several short-term benefits, these data provide another reason women should be advised to avoid weight gain and counseled on the potential benefit of weight loss after menopause," Eliassen et al write.

While acknowledging their findings show "it is never too late to lose weight to decrease risk," the investigators suggest that "emphasis must also remain on weight maintenance throughout adult life."






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