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article imageBreast cancer study: Staying the same size can reduce risk

By Jenna Cyprus     Oct 2, 2014 in Health
A recent study at the University College London Gynecological Cancer Research Center suggests that for women, staying the same size over the years can reduce the odds of developing breast cancer.
Dr. Usha Menon, lead researcher, says, “Out study has shown than an increase of one size every 10 years between 25 and postmenopausal age is associated with an increase of breast cancer in postmenopausal women by 33 percent.” Dr. Menon’s team looked at over 90,000 women who were part of a cancer screening database in the UK. All participants started the study from 2005 to 2010 and at the time were over the age of 50.
At their enrollment, none of the thousands of women had breast cancer. They submitted their skirt size at age 25, with an average size of 8 (British sizes are vastly different than American sizes). However, at their current age (average of 64), their average skirt size was 10. In total, 75 percent of women say they wore a larger skirt size than they did at 25. The study revealed that if skirt sizes increased two sizes for every ten years, starting at age 25 through menopause, they had a 77 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer.
A closer look at a growing issue
Dr. Menon provides another way of looking at it: Every time a woman goes up a size per ten years, their five-year breast cancer risk post-menopause went up 50 one in 51 (compared to one in 61). The full study can be found in BMJ Open’s September 24 issue. Each participant was asked to reveal height and weight for body mass index (BMI) calculation. They were also vetted for information that might suggest other reasons for being pre-disposed to breast cancer (smoking, genetics, etc.).
Hormonal birth control and replacement therapy was also discussed, since it’s been linked in numerous studies to breast cancer. After entering the study, Dr. Menon’s team checked in with the participants for at least three years. Additional questions were asked, largely centered on health care. In that three to four year span, 1,090 of the nearly 93,000 women received a breast cancer diagnosis.
The surprising indicator
Dr. Menon’s team expected the common breast cancer indicators such as family history and hormone therapy to play a role, but they were surprised by what skirt size revealed. It was actually the biggest predictor of breast cancer compared to anything else. “This is an observational study and no definitive conclusion can be drawn about cause and effect,” says Dr. Menon. She also pointed out that vanity sizing certainly plays a role, and the actual size increases a woman reports can be much larger since a size 10 today is nothing like a size 10 years ago.
Instead, Dr. Menon stresses skirt size shifts as just a proxy for figuring out how much abdominal weight a person has gained. It’s still a better way to predict breast cancer than using the BMI, according to researchers. Simply knowing how much a person weighs in relation to their height is fraught with troubles—they might be putting on muscle while decreasing fat (or vice versa), but the circumference of a person’s waist shows how much fat they really carry.
Skirting the issue
According to researchers, when a woman needs a bigger skirt size, that means she’s put on more stomach fat. What needs to be looked at closer is the relationship between stomach fat and a higher risk of breast cancer. However, it’s a known fact that obesity creates more estrogen, which is a necessity for breast cancer to grow. “Previous studies suggest that body fat around the waist is metabolically more active than fat tissue elsewhere in the body,” the team says.
According to the director at City of Hope Cancer Center in California Dr. Leslie Bernstein, the study matches what’s known about breast cancer. She compares it to an old study that considers the uniform sizes of train conductors and bus drivers to compare who gained weight and how that related to heart disease risks. Plus, focusing on skirt sizes increases the likelihood of telling the truth since it’s a “safer” question than asking about actual measurements or weight.
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