Lifestyle and breast cancer: the jury is in on obesity and out on alcohol

It's time to get the weight off ladies. We've been hearing the indications for months if not years and now the studies are building to show that a high body mass index( BMI) has a connection not only to getting breast cancer but also to surviving breast cancer. A study from Denmark had lots of interest in the press room at SABCS today, where reporters from around the world were crowded around the monitor that streams the live coverage to those of us with computers and constituents back home. The Danish study evaluated health information for around 54,000 women in the Danish Breast Cancer Cooperative Group data base, with adequate information to calculate BMI for 19,000 women. To calculate your BMI click here go to and pop in your height and weight (don't lie as that defeats the purpose). If your number is over 30 you are considered obese. A score between 20 and 25 is normal and below that indicates you are underweight. After 30 years of following the women in Denmark, researchers found that women with higher BMI 1. were older and had more advanced disease at diagnosis compared with those who had BMI within the normal range. 2. had a 42 to 46 percent higher risk of developing distant metastases in the 10 years following diagnosis. 3. had a 26 to 38 percent increased risk of dying from breast cancer 10 or more years after diagnosis.In addition, adjuvant treatment seemed less effective in patients with BMI over 30. The speaker who went over these results indicated this study confirmed others and offered suggestions for further differentiation in the women so hormone status could be factored in. The study on alcohol consumption and recurrence had more unanswered questions than the obesity study. What the study, which was conducted by the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente, showed was a 1.3 fold increase in the risk of breast cancer recurrence for women who have at least three to four drinks a week. In addition, the study showed an elevated risk of recurrence among postmenopausal and overweight/obese women who are hitting the bottle on a regular basis. There are a number of studies now that show consumption of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, but there are few studies that look at the role of alcohol in prognosis and survival for those already diagnosed with breast cancer. There seemed to be more questions about these findings than the obesity study in part because there were a number of things they didn't evaluate, including hormone receptor status, and what other kinds of fluid the women were drinking. The researcher who evaluated the studies indicated that the alcohol question needs more research to look at these findings in relation to the knowledge that alcohol has a positive impact on heart disease.These studies answer one question about weight which is very clear – and is supported by many other studies, while leaving the issue of alcohol open to interpretation.More tomorrow from SABCS.