Breast Cancer Linked to Pregnancy Weight
By PEGGY PECK, UPI Science News
SAN FRANCISCO, Apr 09, 2002 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Women who
gain more than 38 pounds during pregnancy experience a 40 percent increased risk
of breast cancer after menopause, compared to expectant mothers who gain 25 to
35 pounds, researchers reported Tuesday at the American Association for Cancer
Research annual meeting.
Dr. Leena Hilakivi-Clarke of the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown
University in Washington said in western countries about "30 percent of
women gain more than 38 pounds during pregnancy." Half of pregnant women
hold weight gain to the recommended 25 to 35 pound limit, which poses no
additional breast cancer risk after menopause.
Another 20 percent gain too little weight during pregnancy, which does not
increase cancer risk but does pose a health danger to the fetus, Hilakivi-Clarke
said in an interview with United Press International.
Women who gain more than 50 pounds during pregnancy will triple their risk of
breast cancer after menopause if they do not lose the weight afterward, Hilakivi-Clarke
added, although excess weight gain does not increase risk for breast cancer in
Hilakivi-Clarke said one possible explanation for the link between pregnancy
weight gain and later breast cancer is that "the weight gain comes at time
when the breast is already vulnerable. It is generally accepted that estrogen is
linked to breast cancer risks and estrogen levels are at their highest during
She said for each 2.2-pound weight increase, the corresponding increase in
breast cancer risk was 3.9 percent when adjusted for body mass index before
pregnancy. Moreover, women who retain extra weight after pregnancy and carry it
with them into menopause have a greater risk than women who manage to lose the
weight before menopause.
"My advice to women who gained 38 pounds or more during pregnancy is
this -- lose that weight before menopause," Hilakivi-Clarke said.
The findings were based on an analysis of data from studies of 23,885 breast
cancer patients in Finland. The first study selected 98 women who developed
breast cancer before menopause, along with 392 age-matched controls. The second
study selected 332 subjects, including 166 women who developed breast cancer at
an average age of 58 and an equal number of age-matched controls.
Dr. Joyce O'Shaughnessy, a breast cancer specialist at Baylor-Sammons Cancer
Center and U.S. Oncology in Dallas, said the report underlines the link between
obesity and breast cancer.
"From a public health standpoint, this just gives further credence to
the belief that we need to focus our prevention efforts on reducing
obesity," O'Shaughnessy said.
In a related study, Dr. Margot Cleary of the Hormel Institute in Austin,
Minn., reported that when leptin -- a gene associated with weight gain -- is
added to either normal breast cells or malignant breast cancer cells it promotes
"Adding leptin to breast cancer cells increased cell numbers by 160
percent," Cleary said, adding that leptin levels increase as weight
increases. "So I think there is a clear correlation between the weight gain
findings and the laboratory results with leptin."
O'Shaughnessy noted there are several pregnancy-related factors that can
influence the risk for breast cancer. For example, a first pregnancy before age
20 reduces the risk for breast cancer, while a first pregnancy between ages 20
to 25 has no impact on breast cancer risk.
"A first pregnancy after age 30 increases breast cancer risk by about 40
percent, which is roughly equal to the risk associated with pregnancy weight
gain," she said, adding that women who have never been pregnant experience
about a 35 percent to 40 percent increased risk for breast cancer compared to
women who have had at least one pregnancy.
Copyright: Copyright 2002 by United Press International.
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