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Breast Cancer Health Center

Who Gets Breast Cancer and Who Survives?

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verweight Women Are More Likely to Develop — and Die from — Breast Cancer

Very few of us can boast that we still fit into our high school prom dresses, but if you've gained more than 20 pounds since your 18th birthday, your risk of developing breast cancer is 40 percent higher compared with those who stay within 5 pounds of their teenage weight, research from the ACS shows. Excess pounds also lower your risk of survival: Breast cancer sufferers with a body mass index (BMI, a measure of body fat based on height and weight) of 25 to 29 are 34 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than those at a normal weight, according to a major review from the Hutchinson Center. And obese women (those with a BMI of 30 plus) are 63 percent less likely to survive.

"When you're obese, you have higher insulin levels, which promotes cancerous cell growth," explains review author Anne McTiernan, M.D., director of the Prevention Center at the Hutchinson Center. Another explanation for poor survival rates: Almost 40 percent of severely obese women get a significantly lower dose of chemo than they need, according to research at the University of Rochester. "The heavier you are, the more chemo you need to wipe out cancer — and some physicians are scared to give such massive doses to patients," says Griggs, who authored the study.

However, there is some reassuring news for those who are heavyset: Losing weight at any age can help cut breast cancer risk. Findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveal that postmenopausal women who lost 22 pounds were 57 percent less likely to develop the disease compared with those who maintained their weight.

Women on a Low-Fat, Veggie-Rich Diet Are Safer from Breast Cancer

There's been a lot of conflicting research on diet and breast cancer risk, but the latest findings suggest that following a low-fat diet and eating plenty of produce can help prevent the disease. Earlier this year, a National Institutes of Health study found that postmenopausal women who got 40 percent of their calories from fat were 11 percent more likely to get breast cancer than women who got 20 percent of their calories from fat. And eating ample fruits, veggies, and whole grains lowered women's risk by 17 percent in one French study.

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