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Obesity Doesn’t Affect Survival in Metastatic Disease

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Much research has shown that being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast and other cancers. Other research has found that being overweight or obese can affect the type of breast cancer a woman may get as well as affect prognosis after breast cancer is diagnosed.

A study found that being overweight or obese at diagnosis didn't affect the survival of women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The results were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

Doctors use body mass index (BMI) to determine if a person is underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese. BMI takes both height and weight into account:

  • BMI lower than 18.5 is considered underweight.
  • BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy weight.
  • BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.
  • BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

The researchers reviewed the records of women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer who had participated in one of a number of other clinical trials.

At diagnosis:

  • 197 women had a BMI under 25 (healthy weight)
  • 187 women had a BMI between 25 and 30 (overweight)
  • 105 women had a BMI over 30 (obese)

There were no differences in either the progression-free survival or overall survival of the women in each BMI group. Progression-free survival is the length of time a woman lives without the cancer growing. Overall survival is the length of time a woman lives whether or not the cancer grows.

Progression-free survival was:

  • 10.7 months for the healthy weight group
  • 13.1 months for the overweight group
  • 12.2 months for the obese group

Overall survival was:

  • 32 months for the healthy weight group
  • 32.9 months for the overweight group
  • 30.7 months for the obese group

(The overall survival numbers aren't in the story at the left; Breastcancer.org read the abstract to get them.)

If you were overweight when you were diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, this study should be reassuring. Still, working toward a healthy weight might be a good idea as you try to be as healthy as you can while being treated for metastatic breast cancer. Losing weight can be hard work for healthy people and may be much harder for someone being treated for metastatic breast cancer.

If your BMI is high, you might want to ask your doctor about a safe and sensible plan for managing your weight during treatment. The National Institutes of Health offers an online BMI calculator that allows you to calculate your BMI. For more information on creating a healthy diet plan that includes exercise, visit the pages on Healthy Eating During Treatment in the Breastcancer.org Nutrition section.

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