Obesity has a causal relationship with various forms of cancer, as concluded by the International Agency for Research on Cancer following a comprehensive review of epidemiological studies spanning >30 years . In Europe, obesity accounts for 3% of cancers in men and 6% of cancers in women . The evidence that obesity contributes to the development of breast cancer in postmenopausal women is overwhelming and indisputable .
In addition to the association between obesity and a higher incidence of breast cancer, various systematic reviews and meta-analyses have demonstrated that obesity at the time of diagnosis is a significant risk factor for a poor prognosis in both pre- and postmenopausal women [7,8]. It has been estimated that up to 50% of postmenopausal breast cancer-related deaths can be attributed to obesity in the US .
A meta-analysis of the English literature, including 12 published studies comprising 8029 cases of breast cancer, found that the overall hazard ratio for death attributed to obesity in breast cancer was 1.56 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.22–2) . Women with breast cancer in the highest quartile for BMI are 2.5 times as likely to die from their disease within 5 years of diagnosis compared with those in the lowest quartile for BMI .
Several large-scale cohort studies and critical reviews, such as the US NHS (Nurses’ Health Study) and the Cancer Prevention Study II, have confirmed the association between obesity and increased deaths from breast cancer [12,13]. Obesity is associated with a poor breast cancer outcome even in those with early stage disease , and obese postmenopausal women with inflammatory breast cancer have been shown to experience a significantly worse outcome compared with similar women of normal weight .
Amtul R Carmichael, MD
Russells Hall Hospital, Dudley, UK