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Obesity Linked to Aggressive Breast Cancer in Older Women

Obesity in the post-menopause years may lead to a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer that grows independently of estrogen, HealthDay reports.

A new study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle shows that women with a high body mass index (BMI) had a 35 percent increased risk, compared to women who were not obese, for developing triple negative, an aggressive type of breast cancer identified by a lack of estrogen, progesterone and HER2 protein expression.

According to HealthDay, triple-negative breast cancer is rare, only occurring in about 10 or 20 percent of breast cancer cases, but it carries a poor outlook with its diagnosis because of the aggressiveness of the cancer and the lack of target treatments.

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While the link between obesity and more mainstream, estrogen-fueled breast cancer has been acknowledged, the link between this estrogen-independent form of cancer is a new discovery.

"The new part of this is the triple-negative," said study leader Amanda Phipps.

Phipps and her colleagues followed participants, ages 50 to 79-years-old, for 15 years to look at cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. The women reported exercise habits, along with weight and height, from which their BMIs were calculated. During the study follow-up, it was discovered that 2,610 women developed estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, and 307 developed triple-negative cancer.

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While the statistical significance of the link between BMI and triple-negative breast cancer is "borderline," Phipps says she believes it is simply the product of low study numbers. She is advocating more research into the phenomenon.

One thing the study does indicate is that "obesity [and cancer risk] is not just an estrogen problem," Joanne Mortimer of the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center told HealthDay. "It's not just the problem of the estrogen feeding the cancer cells."

Mortimer, who reviewed the study, said she believes fat cells may create a welcoming environment for the growth of cancer cells.

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