Researchers study weight loss to reduce breast cancer

Research shows that excess weight increases the risk of recurrence and death. Fat cells are a source of estrogen, a hormone that fuels breast cancer in women after menopause. At the same time, anti-estrogen therapies can make a woman heavier, adding to the difficulty of maintaining a good weight. Successful weight loss would have the potential to turn that equation around in a woman’s favor.

“All but one of the women in this study were receiving endocrine therapy, making the significant weight loss remarkable,” Krie said.

Participants took part in the Ideal protocol in which they ate protein-based replacements for three of their four daily meals.

The diet restricted carbohydrates and was limited to 800 to 1,200 calories a day, compared to a common intake of 2,000 calories. Weight loss averaged 5.5 pounds the first week, then 2.14 pounds a week through week 19.

STORY: Obesity linked to specific cancers

“When they stay on this program, they’re flipping their metabolism. The body is burning fat as a primary source of nutrition,” said Kathy Bertsch, development consultant for Ideal Protein.

Krista Bohlen, research pharmacist for the Avera Institute for Human Genetics, said that in addition to the 24 women recovering from breast cancer, a companion piece of research is following eight women with cancer of the uterus. It’s a 10-year project.

“We’re all done now with the active weight loss. We’ll follow them until 2021,” Bohlen said.

Colleen Doyle, director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society, said weight control has moved to the top of the list of recommendations for reducing cancer risk.

“One of the key changes is the evolution to an emphasis on encouraging a healthy dietary pattern, as opposed to individual foods or nutrients to reduce cancer risk,” Doyle said in a statement the society e-mailed from the Twin Cities.

This particular study is closed, but it might set the stage for larger trials on low-carb diets for cancer survivors. Results so far underscore the importance of diet and exercise for breast cancer survivors and hasten what Krie said she hopes will be a willingness of insurance carriers to share the cost.

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