Across the United States, more than 65% of breast cancer survivors are classified as overweight or obese. This worrying statistic has broad implications for mortality in post-menopausal women.
But in a new study, researchers at the Yale School of Public Health have confirmed a winning strategy: healthy eating and exercise.
In their Lifestyle, Exercise and Nutrition (LEAN) randomized trial, the researchers enrolled 100 women with breast cancer into a six-month weight-loss intervention or usual care/control group to see if their weight changed depending on their genetic predisposition to obesity. Those who participated in the intervention lost weight, and the changes in weight and body fat did not differ among women who were at a genetically higher risk for weight gain than women who were not.
The study was published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment in early March.
The findings suggest that focusing on nutrition and physical activity can be a helpful way to shed body weight — no matter how much of a genetic predisposition these women had to gaining weight.
“Our data support that lifestyle-behavior modifications (healthy eating and increased physical activity) are effective in helping breast cancer survivors who are overweight or obese achieve clinically meaningful weight loss,” said YSPH Research Assistant Thai Hien Nguyen, M.P.H., the study’s first author.
Certain genes play a significant role in the human body’s responsiveness to weight loss, and specific variants of these genes can have an even greater impact. Some studies have found that diet and exercise can help to overcome this genetic predisposition to obesity, but the findings have so far been inconsistent. And before this trial, no studies had looked into the effects of these interventions in women with breast cancer with these genetic variants, the researchers wrote.
“These findings are encouraging and similar to what has been observed in studies among women without breast cancer,” said Professor Melinda Irwin, Ph.D., principal investigator of the LEAN study.