Breast cancer: Being overweight as the number one risk factor

Breast cancer: Being overweight as the number one risk factor

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Obesity favors breast cancer as much as hormone intake

Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women. Hormones have been linked to the development of this cancer for years. But what many are not aware of is that obesity (obesity) has the same negative impact on tumor development as hormone intake.

For years, there has been a discussion about taking hormones in connection with the development of breast cancer. Just a few months ago, a study was published in "The Lancet" magazine that showed that breast cancer risk from hormone replacement therapy is twice as high as previously thought. Another factor that just as well promotes breast cancer is hardly anchored in public awareness: being overweight has the same negative consequences for tumor development as hormone therapy. The UKM - University Clinic Münster points this out in a message.

Obesity after menopause has a negative impact on breast cancer risk

"Since 1975, the number of people with severe overweight (obesity) has tripled worldwide - with previously unpredictable consequences also in terms of breast cancer," says Prof. Ludwig Kiesel, director of the University Women's Clinic at the UKM. The extent to which obesity influences the risk of developing breast cancer depends, according to the expert, very much on which stage of life we ​​are talking about. As Prof. Kiesel explains, it is unfavorable for the breast cancer risk if you are overweight after the menopause.

“Interestingly, this does not necessarily apply to the period before the menopause. There are even studies that can show a lower risk if you were overweight before the menopause, ”says the doctor, according to which there are many explanations. For example, hormone levels seem to play an important role. “Before the menopause, women have a high level of their own female hormone formation - this is a fundamentally different risk constellation than after the menopause. If there are fewer hormones afterwards, additional hormone intake or being overweight seems to have more effect on the risk of breast cancer than before, ”explains Prof. Kiesel.

Don't gain weight at all

The problem is that women often go on their own after menopause. The gynecologist points out that it is helpful to lose weight as early as possible, ideally in combination with sufficient physical exercise. But he also explains that weight loss is good, but not quite as good as if the woman hadn't gained weight before. Any weight gain has a negative effect on the development of breast cancer, but weight loss can correct this somewhat. “Put simply, it is ideal if you have not gained weight at all, even if there are of course many other factors involved. Weight always plays a role in the development of breast cancer - it has even been found that a low birth weight is associated with a lower risk of developing later, "said Prof. Kiesel.

Obesity is just as unfavorable as years of hormone therapy

However, reality shows that obesity and obesity are increasing rapidly in society. The central fat around the middle of the body is classified as particularly dangerous. “The fat on the stomach is an active organ - in the past it was thought that it was only a memory for bad times. It is now understood that there is a connection between active fat and the inflammatory processes that it triggers in the body and the development of cancer. Of course, this also applies to breast cancer, ”explains the gynecologist.

When asked whether the risk of being overweight and the risk of hormone therapy can be weighed up against one another, Prof. Kiesel says: “Yes, you can actually weigh this up against one another: Obesity clearly has almost the same effect as hormone therapy. In the end, it is almost as unfavorable in numbers to be clearly overweight as to take hormones over several years. ”

But he also points out that hormone therapy is not the same as hormone therapy. According to the specialist, the risk is significantly lower if a woman only takes estrogens and not a combination preparation of estrogens and progestogens. In general, the longer hormones are taken, the less favorable the effects. "However, for a short time - less than a year of ingestion - hormone administration has no significant consequences and can help to overcome symptoms such as hot flashes," said the doctor.

Protective measures

In order to avoid breast cancer as much as possible, women should pay attention to their weight and best before the menopause, because the calorie consumption then decreases significantly, which is why the diet must be adjusted in good time. In addition, according to Prof. Kiesel, women “not only have to eat less, but at the same time do more exercise to maintain muscle mass.” He also points out that the risk can only be influenced to a limited extent.

After all, various factors play a role in the development of breast cancer. Not all of these risk factors can be influenced personally. “There are a number of factors that may be involved in the development of breast cancer, but their exact meaning and interaction have not been fully clarified. It is therefore not possible to determine the individual risk of disease with certainty, ”says the public health portal of Austria“ ”.

It also indicates that, according to the cancer information service of the German Cancer Research Center, there are scientifically the strongest indications of the following factors: age, hormonal situation, lifestyle and possibly inherited risk genes. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • UKM - Münster University Hospital: Obesity as the No. 1 risk factor for breast cancer, (accessed: November 2, 2019), UKM - Münster University Hospital
  • The Lancet: Type and timing of menopausal hormone therapy and breast cancer risk: individual participant meta-analysis of the worldwide epidemiological evidence, (Access: 02.11.2019), The Lancet
  • Austria's public health portal ( Breast cancer: prevention, (accessed: 02.11.2019),

Video: Higher death risk for obese breast cancer patients, study finds (July 2022).


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