Increased Risks of Breast Cancer from Weight Gain and Hormone Therapy

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

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A high body mass index (BMI) has always been associated with increased health risks such as heart disease and diabetes; however recent research has also highlighted the increased risk of breast cancer risk with weight gain in the lead up to menopause. During menopause, hormones waver dramatically often causing weight gain and a whole host of uncomfortable side effects for the women involved. Hormone therapy and other treatments seek to readdress the hormone imbalance but such hormone therapy treatments are only used in the short term and some research has shown that they can in fact increase the risk of breast cancer post menopause.

A recent study conducted over an 8 year period has looked into the increased risks of breast cancer in women who gain weight during the years leading up to menopause. As many as 99,039 women took part in this study which recorded weight gain history throughout the women's lives and analyzed the number of breast cancer cases in the group by 2001.

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There were 2111 cases of breast cancer in the participants who took part in this study and researchers found that risk was increased by weight gain from as young as 18 years old. This risk was also present in women who gained weight at any age until menopause, although a sharp increase in risk was noted in those women who had gained weight later in life, closer to the age of 50. As many of the women had taken some type of hormone therapy during menopause the researchers asked the women to note the type and length of their hormone therapy so that this factor could be incorporated into the results of the study. They found that use of hormone therapy did in fact reduce the risk of breast cancer even if weight gain had occurred, however breast cancer risk was found to rise again after the termination of hormone therapy treatment.

As at any time of life, this research emphasizes the fact that a healthy lifestyle, with a low BMI, is the best way to guard against sickness at any time of life. Its astounding that weight gain early in a woman's life can have an effect on how at risk the same woman is forty years later, but it doesn't mean that there aren't things a woman can do during and after menopause to help reduce the risk of breast cancer. Hormone therapy was found to actually reduce the risk of breast cancer in this group of women however more research needs to be undertaken on this topic as other research has found there to be a higher risk of breast cancer in those women taking hormone therapy.