Does Your Weight Affect Your Breast Cancer Risk? Find Out.

Woman stepping on the scale

We all know that maintaining a healthy weight is integral to taking care of our bodies. However, for people specifically worried about breast cancer risk, the information surrounding weight gain’s effect on the body might seem confusing at first glance. 

This is because the science around how weight affects breast cancer risk is dependent on many factors, such as the age at which the weight gain occurs and the location of the extra weight. 

In this article, we will walk you through everything you need to know about how weight gain can affect your risk for breast cancer.

Age Matters

It seems that the age at which you carry extra weight does affect your risk for breast cancer. 

According to the Susan G. Komen foundation, women who are overweight or obese before menopause actually have a 10-20 percent lower chance of contracting breast cancer. 

Hold up, though, before you reach for the cupcakes. This research does not actually indicate that you should put on some extra pounds in order to reduce your risk of breast cancer because you might carry that excess weight past menopause, and then the story changes.

For women that have already gone through menopause, being overweight is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer—and this increased risk is actually quite significant. Overweight or obese women, as measured by BMI (Body Mass Index), are 20-60 percent more likely to get breast cancer. Now that’s a huge risk difference!

Interestingly, it isn’t clear whether gaining weight as an adult is specifically what increases your risk of getting breast cancer. Some studies seem to indicate that the risk factor might not change for those who have been overweight since childhood. 

Location Matters

Woman performing a self breast exam

The American Cancer Society echos these findings about weight gain, stating that post-menopausal weight gain is likely to raise your risk of breast cancer

However, they also point to research that indicates that the location of your extra fat might actually play a significant role in your risk level. Some research seems to indicate that excess fat in the waist area raises risk more than extra fat in the hips or thighs.

It is important to realize, though, that you can not control where your body naturally stores weight. It is not possible to lose weight just in your abdomen or gain it just in your thighs unless this is the way your body naturally distributes the weight. 

Will losing weight help reduce my risk of cancer?

Longevity or Mediterranean diets include salmon, nuts and avocado. Healthy fats

If you are obese or overweight, it is probably a good idea to try and lose weight in order to improve your health. 

However, the effect that weight loss has on cancer is not clear. While scientists are trying to study this relationship, it is proving difficult because very few people lose weight in adulthood, and even fewer actually keep the weight off. This is exactly why scientists warn against gaining pre-menopausal weight with the plan to later lose that weight—gaining weight is typically much easier than losing it. 

Even though the research isn’t clear about whether losing weight will specifically lower your chances of breast cancer, weight loss is still a good idea for those who are worried about their cancer risk. 

For one thing, weight is linked to a whole host of health markers, not just cancer risk. Improving your other health markers can reduce your overall mortality rate. And comorbidity is always a concern when it comes to serious diseases. You don’t want to be dealing with heart failure at the same time as breast cancer. 

Many of the ways that we maintain a healthy weight are beneficial for decreasing cancer risk. For example, regular exercise reduces your risk of getting cancer, which is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy weight. A balanced diet is also essential to maintaining a healthy weight. Certain healthy dietary choices have also been linked to reduced cancer risk.

The Bottom Line

Sad woman looking out the window

If you are looking to maximize your health and minimize your risk of breast cancer, the best thing you can do when it comes to your weight is to maintain a healthy weight throughout your lifetime. 

Even though overweight or obese pre-menopause women are slightly less likely to get breast cancer, according to some studies, the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life still outweigh this reduced risk. And if you have already gone through menopause, it is especially important to maintain a healthy weight. 

If you are not at a healthy weight, do your best to take steps in the direction of losing weight. Even if this weight loss doesn’t directly affect your cancer risk, it will improve your overall health, which is an important component in fighting cancer. Focus on methods that have been linked to cancer reduction, such as increased exercise or following the Mediterranean diet. 

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