Weight And Cancer Risk
- Tamara Loving, a mom of two from California, is saying her dramatic weight loss of 120 pounds helped her successfully battle stage 1A hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.
- Loving, who now works for WeightWatchers and helps other women lead a healthy lifestyle like herself, told Fox News Digital in a recent interview, “Today, I feel strong, confident and just overall healthy, thanks to the lifestyle changes and habits I adopted.”
- Studies have shown that diet can influence cancer prevention. Heavy alcohol consumption and obesity have been linked to a number of cancers, so it’s a good idea to exercise and maintain a diet that incorporates more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins while decreasing sodium and added sugar intake.
- Studies have shown that maintaining an active lifestyle can be helpful for cancer prevention, for patients undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments, and for survivors recovering from treatment.
Speaking to Fox News Digital in a recent interview, the Huntington Beach resident recounted how she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2017 and the weight loss journey she endured prior to learning she had the disease.Read More
“Based on this, I decided to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction in November 2017 once I was healed from the previous surgery.”
Thankfully, she was declared to be in remission in November 2017, just six months after her diagnosis—and without the need of chemo or radiation therapy.
As for her weight loss regime prior to her diagnosis, Loving told the news outlet, “A typical week of workouts includes five days in the gym and the other two days [of] doing recreational activities, such as hiking in the mountains, bike riding or walking along the beach with my husband.
Expert Resources On Healthy Living
- Exercise and ‘Chemo Brain’: Can Physical Activity Save Breast Cancer Patients from Brain Fog During Chemotherapy?
- What to Know About Diet and Exercise if You Have Cancer
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- 8 Secrets to a Long, Healthy Life: Jacques Houot and the Fountain of Youth
- SurvivorNetTV Presents ‘How Not To Get Cancer: Diet’ — The Power of Prevention & Healthy Habits
Aside from exercising more—which included cardio, weight training, rowing, and stretching—Loving said she ate an abundance of fruits and vegetables, as well as home-cooked meals.
With regard to how Loving felt after putting all the effort in to get fit, she told Fox News Digital, “My body is now able to be more active and overall in a better, more youthful condition.
“The weight loss improved my cardiovascular health and sleep patterns, and reduced the amount of joint pains. It also improved my mental health by reducing anxiety.”
Loving, who now works for WeightWatchers and helps other women lead a healthy lifestyle like herself, added, “Today, I feel strong, confident and just overall healthy, thanks to the lifestyle changes and habits I adopted.”
A neurologist in Florida, Dr. Brett Osborn followed up with Fox News Digital about obesity and cancer risk.
He told the news outlet, “Cancer, like all non-infectious, age-related diseases, is underpinned by inflammation. And obesity is an inflammatory disease resulting from the overconsumption of simple carbohydrates in the context of a sedentary lifestyle.”
As for being overweight during a cancer fight, Dr. Osborn said, “If you are obese and fighting cancer, you are trudging uphill, shouldering a 100-pound rucksack. You are certainly not stacking the deck in your favor.”
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization, defines obesity or overweight as “as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.
“A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight, and over 30 is obese. The issue has grown to epidemic proportions, with over four million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese in 2017 according to the global burden of disease.”
Breast Cancer & Its Risk Factors
The risk factors for breast cancer are well-studied. These factors are divided into non-modifiable factors that you cannot change, and modifiable factors that you can influence.
Some Non-Modifiable Risk Factors:
- Genetic Mutations: Although BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are the most well-known, there are numerous known and unknown genetic mutations that may influence the risk for breast cancer.
- Age: Your risk for breast cancer increases with age. On average, women are diagnosed with the disease at around 62 years of age. The risk is low for those younger than 45 years old.
- Reproductive and menstrual history: Women who start menstruation before 12 years of age or continue menstruating at age 55 or older are at higher risk of getting the disease.
- Family history of breast or ovarian cancer, especially if the afflicted family members are mothers, sisters, or daughters (termed first-degree relatives). Having other family members with cancers may also increase the risk.
Some Modifiable Risk Factors:
- Being overweight or obese: Post-menopausal women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing breast cancer as compared to someone with a healthier weight.
- Alcohol use or abuse: The more alcohol a woman drinks, the higher her risk of developing getting breast cancer.
- Reproductive and breastfeeding history: Women who have never experienced pregnancy or breastfed are at higher risk.
- Hormone use: Some women may use estrogen and progesterone to manage symptoms of menopause. Birth control pills and other methods may contain these hormones as well. Exposure to such therapies over a few years may raise the risk of breast cancer.
At least thirteen different cancers have been linked to being overweight or obese. Breast cancer is one of them.
The link between weight and breast cancer has been extensively studied. However, this relationship is not very straightforward.
Studies link being overweight or obese before menopause to a 10-20% lower risk of breast cancer. However, after menopause, this relationship is reversed. Women who are overweight or obese after menopause are at a 20-60% higher risk for breast cancer than lean women.
Despite the dual relationship, the American Cancer Society advises women to maintain a healthy weight throughout their lives. This stems from the fact that most breast cancers start after menopause and weight gain from younger years can carry over into the older years.
Diet and Exercise Considerations for Cancer Survivors
It’s never a bad idea to try to lead a healthy lifestyle, and we’re happy Tamara Loving is doing so herself and encouraging others to do the same. But what should you know about maintaining good health and cancer risk? We’ve got you covered below.
Thinking about Diet
Healthy diet recommendations for cancer-related concerns can differ depending upon who you ask.
Studies have shown that diet can influence cancer prevention. Heavy alcohol consumption and obesity have been linked to a number of cancers, so it’s a good idea to exercise and maintain a diet that incorporates more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins while decreasing sodium and added sugar intake.
Sugar, specifically, has attracted a lot of attention for a possible role in cancer, but overwhelming medical evidence finds that sugar does not cause cancer. SurvivorNet has previously found that credible sources such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center all came to that same conclusion as well.
But there is still some debate on the subject. Dr. Brian Berman, director of the center for integrative medicine at the University of Maryland, believes sugar does, in fact, fuel cancer.
Below we have shared his views not because it is of equal scientific weight to the sources cited above, but rather because it is a view that does get a lot of attention and press.
There’s also articles that often get published saying “this fruit” or “that vegetable” is the magical cure to cancer. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case.
Leading oncologists say it is always hard to use studies of a single food to make sweeping generalizations about their impact on health.
There is a variety of factors that can determine health risk and it is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to say that a single food such as mushrooms can have a direct impact on cancer risk. Many other factors such as overall diet, environmental risk, genetics and exercise play a role.
Exercising as a Cancer Survivor
According to the National Cancer Institute, physical activity is beneficial for cancer survivors. The NCI cited findings from a report of the 2018 American College of Sports Medicine International Multidisciplinary Roundtable on physical activity and cancer prevention and control in saying that exercise is generally good for cancer survivors. The roundtable also found:
- Strong evidence that moderate-intensity aerobic training and/or resistance exercise during and after cancer treatment can reduce anxiety, depressive symptoms and fatigue and improve health-related quality of life and physical function.
- Strong evidence that exercise training is safe in persons who have or might develop breast-cancer-related lymphedema.
- Some evidence that exercise is beneficial for bone health and sleep quality.
- Insufficient evidence that physical activity can help prevent cardiotoxicity or chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy or improve cognitive function, falls, nausea, pain, sexual function or treatment tolerance.
Still, it’s important to note that other experts like Dr. Sairah Ahmed, associate professor in the Division of Cancer Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, say being in good shape during your cancer battle is very beneficial.
In fact, studies suggest that physical activity can be a powerful antidote for side effects of cancer treatment like “chemo brain” and, according to Dr. Ahmed, the more physically fit you are during cancer treatment, the less side effects you’ll have and the faster you’ll get back to your normal quality of life.
“In terms of cancer, oftentimes patients feel that they don’t have any control over any part of their life, and that’s not true,” Ahmed told SurvivorNet in an earlier interview. “Diet, exercise, and stress control are extremely important when going through cancer therapy, as well as once you’re done treating your cancer and trying to get back to the rest of your life.”
And Dr. Ken Miller, the director of outpatient oncology at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, recommends these four things for cancer survivors to do to try and avoid another cancer diagnosis:
- Exercise at least two hours a week, and walking counts
- Eat a low-fat diet
- Eat a colorful diet with lots of fruits and vegetables—doctors recommend two to three cups a day
- Maintain a healthy weight
Dr. Andrea Tufano-Sugarman of NYU Langone Health previously explained to SurvivorNet the benefits of losing weight, saying “While all cancers cannot be prevented, losing weight is a great way to reduce one’s risk.”
And even without losing weight, adopting a more nutritious diet can help.
“Food choices, independent of weight loss, may also help to reduce risk,” Dr. Tufano-Sugarman said. “Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet (rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, fish and olive oil) is associated with a decreased risk of cancer. Whereas diets rich in red meat may be associated with an increased risk of colorectal and prostate cancer.”
SurvivorNet experts agree that diet and cancer risks are closely related. Overcooked red meat, processed foods like bacon, as well as fatty meats have all been associated with an increased cancer risk.
However, removing these suspected triggers does not always stop cancer from developing, and indulging in them does not necessarily mean a person will get cancer. There is a bit more to understanding cancer risk than that.
We are exposed to carcinogens (substances that can cause cancer) throughout our daily lives, such as when we prepare food. But many people will not go on to develop the disease, according to Dr. Robert Wright, chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at Mount Sinai.
“We create carcinogens all the time in our foods when we cook them, and very few of us get cancer because our bodies can handle them,” Dr. Wright told SurvivorNet in an earlier interview.. “But some people have susceptibilities to these environmental carcinogens, which might be genetic or might be caused by combinations of carcinogens.”
It is important to understand that no one trigger is going to definitively cause cancer, Dr. Wright says, but it could be a combination of triggers in the environment.
No matter what anyone tells you, as far as we know, there is no single food that doctors can point to, with absolute certainty, and say it decreases cancer risk. That does not mean that healthy eating habits are not important.
When it comes to dietary advice that applies to everyone, Dr. Wright is straightforward saying simply eat more vegetables and stay active.
Questions To Ask Your Doctor?
It is a good idea to discuss how your current weight puts you at risk for breast cancer with your physician. Some questions to guide this discussion could include:
- Does my weight put me at an increased risk for breast cancer?
- Will losing weight help decrease my risk?
- Should I use lifestyle modifications, such as diet and exercise, alone to reduce my weight?
- Should I consider bariatric surgery?
- Am I a good candidate for the surgery?
- What benefits will I derive from the surgery?
- What will my risk of breast cancer be after the surgery?
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff