Healthy weight can reduce chances of developing breast cancer after menopause

Medical research has found that the more weight you gain in your life, the higher your risk of developing breast cancer after menopause1. Subsequently, maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life has been proven to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer after menopause1.

For the millions of South African women who seem to have an ongoing battle with their weight, these statistics can be frightening.  According to reports from 2016, 40% of women in our country are obese2, which means they have a body mass index greater than 30 kg/m3.

Furthermore, being obese when diagnosed with breast cancer can increase the risk that your cancer will recur and can also reduce your chances of surviving the disease1.

According to Prof CarolAnn Benn, a renowned specialist surgeon and breast disease specialist at Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, increased BMI in post-menopausal woman, and post-menopausal weight gain has been shown to be associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer4.


Another consideration of great concern is that even women with a normal BMI (which is defined as between 18.5 – 24.93), but who have a large waist, are at a significantly elevated risk of dying from cancer4.

Prof Benn says that “central obesity” may increase the risk of early death in women over the age of 49, even when they have a normal BMI.  A study of over 150 000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 years showed that “women who were considered to have normal BMI but had a large waist size had a 31% higher risk of dying during the study period, compared to those with a normal BMI but a smaller waist.” 4

Central obesity is defined as a waist size of 35 or more inches (88 or more cm) 4. According to the World Health Organization and National Health and Medical Research Council recommendations, a woman’s waist measurement should not be over 80cm5.

How do you measure your waist?

  1. When taking measurements, pull the tape measure so that it sits on the surface of the skin, but does not compress the skin6
  2. Find the top of your hip bone and bottom of your ribs5
  3. Breathe out normally5
  4. Place the tape measure between these points, and wrap it around your waist to get an accurate measurement5
  5. In most people, your natural waist should be the narrowest part of your torso6.

The good news is that postmenopausal women who lose weight may reduce their breast cancer risk7.

In fact, postmenopausal women who experience a weight loss of as little as 5% of their body weight are at lower risk for invasive breast cancer compared with women whose weight remains stable, say researchers8.

Dr Benn adds that exercise can decrease cancer risk by as much as 42%4.

Research has found that women who exercised moderately (the equivalent of walking 3 to 5 hours per week at an average pace) after a breast cancer diagnosis had approximately 40% to 50% lower risks of breast cancer recurrence, death from breast cancer, and death from any cause compared with women who do not exercise9.

Eating and drinking the correct amount and consuming the correct amount of calories are key1. Eat a balanced diet, eat less sugary or fatty processed foods and include regular physical activity1.

Prescription medication together with these types of lifestyle adjustments can help kick start a weight loss journey, or can help someone get back on track10. If you are worried about your weight, speak to your doctor for advice about how to lose or manage your weight1.

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– by iNova Pharmaceuticals

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