Obesity and Breast Cancer

Obesity is on the rise worldwide, and is one of the leading risk factors for breast cancer. Excess body weight, poor diet, and physical inactivity have all been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women. In the UAE itself, obesity has gone up at an exponential rate over the last twenty years. Economic growth, leading to a sedentary lifestyle, has resulted in nearly 30% of women in the UAE being overweight, and a further 11% being obese.

Obesity is defined as body mass index of >= to 30 kgs/m sq, and is associated with an overall increase in morbidity and mortality. However, the risk of breast cancer associated with BMI appears to depend on menopausal status of women.

A higher BMI and/or perimenopausal weight gain have been associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women. The association between higher BMI and post-menopausal breast cancer risk may be due to higher estrogen levels due to conversion of estrogen precursors to estrogen in adipose tissues. Hyperinsulinemia could also explain risk of breast cancer due to obesity as high insulin levels are associated with high BMI.

The 2 simplest lifestyle changes that a person can make in order to reduce their weight is by:

  • Diet – A bad diet will definitely bring about weight gain and eventually obesity. A wholesome nutritious diet – rich in fiber, nutrients, minerals, and vitamins can not only bring about weight loss, but also aid in managing other chronic conditions that a person might be suffering from.
  • Exercise – When coupled with a healthy diet, the positive effects of exercise can be life changing. By engaging in cardiovascular exercise for 30-45 min every day, a person can bring about a drastic change in their weight over a period of just a few months. Regular exercise also helps in keeping the heart healthy, and clearing the mind of anxiety.

Lastly, despite the level of risk that you may have for breast cancer, it is imperative that you carry out a self-breast examination at regular intervals. An early detection of breast cancer, exponentially increases a person’s chance of beating the disease.

Self-examination of your breasts takes less than 5 minutes. Do not avoid or put it off. Breasts should be checked after the periods, day 5 to day 10 of the cycle, is the best time for self-examination, as nodularity is at its minimum. Your doctor can show you how to do a self-examination of the breasts.

  • Seek your doctor
  • If you look at your breasts and see something different
  • If you feel any lumps
  • If breasts are painful
  • If your nipples change or go inwards
  • If blood or discharge comes out of nipples
  • If you are worried about anything regarding the breasts
  • The doctor may advise you an ultra sound examination when less than 40 years of age +/- mammogram
  • Or a mammogram +/- ultrasound for age 40 years and above, if required along with the clinical examination
  • Early detection is the key
  • Be breast aware
  • Avoid excess alcohol consumption
  • Healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise
  • Maintaining healthy BMI
  • Breast feeding

All these will go a long way in reducing the risk of breast cancer.




Dr Vandana Waghaye

Specialist Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Aster Clinic, Discovery Garden



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