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Gaining Weight After Diagnosis Decreases Survival

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A study reinforces earlier research results: gaining a lot of weight (22 pounds or more) after being diagnosed with breast cancer increases the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Researchers don't completely understand how gaining weight makes a breast cancer prognosis worse. It's likely because of a number of factors. Extra body fat can increase levels of hormones such as estrogen. Estrogen can stimulate breast cancer growth. Research also suggests that higher than average insulin levels (insulin is a hormone, too) also may cause breast cancer cells to grow. Higher insulin levels are associated with diets and lifestyles considered less healthy: eating a lot of fat and sugar and getting little or no exercise. In general, maintaining a healthy weight is good for your overall health and well-being, both physical and emotional.

Many women do gain weight during and after breast cancer treatment. This is especially true for women who get chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy. Chemotherapy can cause early menopause, which makes it much easier to gain weight. But there are many other reasons women gain weight after diagnosis:

  • the shock of diagnosis
  • disruptions because of doctor's appointments, treatments, etc.
  • emotional stress
  • recovering from surgery and radiation
  • juggling work and personal relationships
  • financial stress
  • being less physically active

If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, try to make exercise and a healthy diet part of your daily routine. Think of eating well and working out as important parts of your treatment plan. If you've gained some weight, you might want to talk to your doctors or a registered dietitian to develop a healthy eating plan designed specifically for you and your needs. Losing weight is hard to do. But it can be done with exercise and careful diet changes. Be nice to yourself; don't punish yourself. Always tell your doctor about any new diet or exercise plans you have.

In the breastcancer.org Nutrition section, the Eating to Lose Weight After Treatment pages can help you asses your weight and create a healthy eating and exercise plan to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

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