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Losing Weight Could Drastically Reduce Breast Cancer Death Risk

Modest weight loss could dramatically improve a breast cancer patient’s chances of survival, according to new research published earlier this month at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Chuck Bednar, RedOrbit, Dec 14, 2014

In fact, trials involving 2,400 women who were being treated for the disease found that death rates a decade later were nearly 70 percent lower among those who had the deadliest form of cancer and who had lost weight, according to Laura Donnelly, health editor for the Telegraph.

Lead investigator Dr. Rowan Chlebowski of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, and his colleagues divided the study participants into two groups, with half of them being placed on a low-fat diet, Donnelly said. Those who lost around five to six pounds and kept the weight off for at least five years had lower death rates over the next two decades.

The most significant results was in the 20 percent of women who had types of cancer not linked to hormones, added Rose Troup Buchanan of The Independent. This group includes triple negative cancers and those stemming from faulty genes, such as BRCA1, which have the fewest treatment options and the worst prognosis unless they are caught early enough.

One possible explanation for the results is that the weight loss also reduced the levels of glucose and insulin that would otherwise help feed cancer cells, Buchanan added. Previous studies have found that overweight or obese women are more likely to develop breast cancer and more resistant to treatments for the disease. Scientists believe that this resistance could be the result of reduced estrogen levels, which itself has been linked to cancer.

“Academics say the findings are so promising they suggest that weight loss is as effective as a breakthrough treatment or chemotherapy,” said Daily Mail reporter Sophie Borland. “It is now well established that being overweight dramatically increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer… but this is the first study to show that purposely losing weight can greatly boost the survival odds.”

Borland said that a total of 975 women who were diagnosed with early stage breast cancer were placed on the special diets for five years, reducing their fat intake 50 percent by avoiding butter, margarine, oil and desserts. They kept the weight off, and 10 years later, the researchers compared those women to another group that did not lose weight.

Overall, the weight-loss group was 19 percent less likely to have a recurrence, but the triple-negative group was found to be 69 percent less likely to have the cancer return within a decade, she added. On average, these women lived 1.9 years longer than those who did not lose weight (13.6 years versus 11.7 years). Previous findings from the same study showed that five years later, these women were 24 percent less likely to have cancer recur.

Professor Tony Howell, director of research at the Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention charity, told Donnelly that the results of the study were “extraordinarily important,” and that “a 69 percent reduction in deaths in a group with few alternative treatments - that’s as good as any drug. For 20 [percent] of women, this is as effective as chemotherapy.”

“Despite the promise of the results, researchers cannot be sure that they weren’t just a statistical blip. In scientific terms they are not ‘significant’,” Borland added. “But other trials involving breast cancer patients being put on diets are under way, and the results are expected within three years. If they show similar benefits, women could be routinely told to lose weight as part of their treatment.”

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