Non-overweight women who maintain nutritious diets may have Weight and Diet Linked To Poorer Breast Cancer Prognosis (dateline January 8, 2003) | Breast Health News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Weight and Diet Linked To Poorer Breast Cancer Prognosis (dateline January 8, 2003)

Non-overweight women who maintain nutritious diets may have better odds of surviving breast cancer and experience a higher quality of life after breast cancer treatment than their overweight peers, according to a review of several studies. Specifically, the report found that women who are overweight or obese survive for shorter periods of time after being diagnosed with breast cancer than women who maintain a healthy weight or actively lose excess weight after their diagnosis. The report also noted that fruit and vegetable intake can positively affect survival after breast cancer. This compilation of findings helps show that environmental factors such as diet and nutrition can have a significant impact on breast cancer prognosis.

While factors such as advancing age, certain genetic factors, early onset of menstruation, late menopause, or never having children have been clearly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, the association between diet, nutrition, weight, and breast cancer remains uncertain. Some studies have found that high-fat diets increase breast cancer risk, though other studies show a weaker association. Similarly, the link between weight and breast cancer remains controversial. Some studies suggest that overweight (or obese) women who gained weight as adults are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer, but other studies show that women who have been overweight since childhood are not at a significantly higher risk.

To help make sense of these issues and related ones, Cheryl L. Rock, PhD, RD, of the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla, California and her colleague Dr. Wendy Demark-Wahnefried of Duke University Medical Center, reviewed and summarized evidence from several studies that examined the relationship between nutritional factors, survival, and recurrence after the diagnosis of breast cancer.

They found that several factors influenced the progression of breast cancer and a patient’s prognosis after an initial diagnosis. For example, in the majority of studies, women who were overweight or obese had a shorter survival time after being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who maintained a healthy weight. Similarly, women who gained weight during breast cancer treatment experienced a reduced quality of life and a higher risk of recurrence of breast cancer. Overweight or obese breast cancer patients were also at higher risk of other health problems such as diabetes.

On the issue of nutrition, Drs. Rock and Demark-Wahnefried found a somewhat weaker yet existing association between a healthy diet and better breast cancer prognosis. Five of 12 reviewed studies found that high-fat diets negatively affected breast cancer survival. The majority of studies also found that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables had a positive impact on breast cancer survival. Unlike some prior studies, the report found no link between alcohol consumption and a poorer prognosis after breast cancer diagnosis, though the researchers say that alcohol intake does increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

Drs. Rock and Demark-Wahnefried said that many women use their breast cancer diagnosis as a wake-up call to actively lose weight and change to a healthier diet. This can positively impact their chances of surviving breast cancer as well as lower their risk of other health problems, such as heart disease. The researchers say that compiling the existing data on diet, nutrition, and breast cancer prognosis helps make more sense out of these complex issues.

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