Studies: A lot of body fat increases the risk of breast cancer even with a normal BMI

Studies: A lot of body fat increases the risk of breast cancer even with a normal BMI

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How does body fat affect cancer risk?

If women have a normal body mass index (BMI) after their menopause, but have higher levels of body fat, this increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers found that despite a normal BMI, breast cancer risk increases by 35 percent per five kilograms of body fat.

In their current study, scientists at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York found that a high percentage of body fat increases the likelihood of cancer, even if the women affected actually have a normal BMI. The experts published the results of their study at this year's Conference of the American Association for Cancer Research in Texas.

What is the BMI?

The BMI relates to the ratio of weight to height, but is not an exact method for determining the body fat percentage, because the muscle mass and the bone density cannot be differentiated from the fat mass. The Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) used in the current study, on the other hand, is a technology that can specifically measure the fat content, which leads to a more precise assessment of the total body fat percentage, experts explain.

Risk increased in postmenopausal women with high body fat

It was not previously known whether people with a normal BMI but an increased percentage of body fat are at increased risk of cancer. The results show that the risk of invasive breast cancer is increased in postmenopausal women with normal BMI and a higher body fat percentage, explains Neil Iyengar from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York) in a press release on the specialist portal "EurekAlert!". This means that a large part of the population is at risk of undetected cancer, the expert adds.

A high level of activity is important for health

The study also found that physical activity levels are lower in women with a higher percentage of body fat. This suggests that physical activity is very important not only for those who are overweight, but also for people of normal weight.

Doctors evaluate the data of women between the ages of 50 and 79

For the research work, the researchers analyzed the data from the so-called Women's Health Initiative (WHI). This observational study examined the health of postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 years. The study included participants with a normal BMI (between 18.5 and under 25.0) and no history of breast cancer. During the 16 years of follow-up examinations, the women were examined for their risk of developing invasive breast cancer.

182 cases of invasive breast cancer

Of the 3,460 participants in the study, 182 developed invasive breast cancer during the follow-up and 146 of these cases were ER-positive, the scientists explain. Experts believe that about 80 percent of all breast cancers are ER positive. When analyzing the data, the researchers also found a relationship between breast cancer risk and a higher total body fat percentage in women with a normal BMI. Despite a normal BMI, the risk of ER-positive breast cancer is increased by 35 percent for every increase in body fat by 5 kilograms, the doctors say.

Women should pay special attention to their body fat percentage

These results will likely come as a surprise to many physicians and patients alike, because the BMI is the current standard way to assess the risks of diseases related to body weight, the experts explain. The researchers hope that the results will point out to women the possibility of an increased risk of breast cancer related to body fat, even if they are of healthy weight. (as)

Author and source information

Video: All About BMI and Living at a Healthy Weight. Dr. Robert Bales (May 2022).