Breast cancer breakthrough: Why reducing belly fat could be life-saving

Now scientists in China have found how women could reduce their risk of getting a rare and hard to treat type of breast cancer.

Researchers found pear shaped women are less likely to develop the disease than women who have an apple-shaped body.

Obese women who have a build-up of fat around their stomachs are more likely to get ER-(negative) breast cancer, a form of the disease that cannot be tackled with hormone blocking drugs.

Those with who accumulated fat around their internal organs known as visceral and measured by belly fat, were predisposed to develop a different subtype of breast cancer than thoset hat accumulated fat more widely around their thighs, hips and buttocks known as subcutaneous.

The study of women from Northern and Eastern China also found that being obese before the menopause raised breast cancer risk in these women.

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer and often women at high risk of the disease are prescribed drugs like Tamoxifen.

However, long-term drug use has side effects, and Tamoxifen only works for women whose breast cancer cells have receptors for the hormone oestrogen on their surface - known as ER+.

A cancer is oestrogen-receptor-positive (ER+) if it has receptors for oestrogen and therefore cancer cells that may receive signals from oestrogen hormones that could encourage cancer growth.

However, cancer cells that are oestrogen-receptor-negative do not need the hormone to grow and usually do not stop getting bigger when treated with hormones that block oestrogen from binding to cells.

As a result there are much higher mortality rates for ER- cancer and it it much rarer, effecting between one and four per cent of patients with the disease.

The scientists suspected women's risk of developing ER+ or ER- breast cancer varied with how fat was distributed throughout their body.

They analysed 1,316  women aged 25 to 70 newly diagnosed with breast cancer from 21 hospitals.

They took body measurements and collected data on their reproductive and medical history, including whether they had been diagnosed with ER+ or ER- breast cancer.

Scientists found women with a high body-mass index (BMI) and more fat around their thighs and hips, were more likely to have ER+ breast cancers, especially if they were premenopausal.

In contrast, women with a high waist-hip ratio (WHR), and more fat around their bellies, were more likely to have ER- breast cancer, especially if they had passed the menopause.

This greater risk of developing ER- breast cancer for women with a high WHR held even if they didn't have a high BMI.

BREAST CANCER MYTHS DEBUNKED

"It was believed that obesity was more strongly related to ER+ than ER- breast cancer,” said Dr Zhigang Yu, a study author at the Second Hospital of Shandong University in China.

"I think there are two reasons for this.

"A possible reason is that subcutaneous fat is involved in oestrogen production, which may promote ER+ breast cancer.

"Visceral fat is more closely related to insulin resistance and may be more likely to promote ER- breast cancer."

The study was published in The Oncologist.

BREAST CANCER MAPPED



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