7th European Breast Cancer Conference EBBC 7 Barcelona March 2010

March 24 to 27th Barcelona 7th European Cancer Conferenc

CCIB Forum
Rambla de Prim (diagonal Mar area)

BARCELONA, Spain – Up to a third of breast cancer cases in Western countries could be avoided if women ate less and exercised more, researchers at a conference said Thursday, renewing a sensitive debate about how lifestyle factors affect the disease.

“What can be achieved with screening has been achieved. We can’t do much more,” Carlo La Vecchia, head of epidemiology at the University of Milan, said in an interview. “It’s time to move on to other things.”

La Vecchia spoke Thursday at a European breast cancer conference in Barcelona. He cited figures from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which estimates that 25 to 30 percent of breast cancer cases could be avoided if women were thinner and exercised more. The agency is part of the World Health Organization.

His comments are in line with recent health advice that lifestyle changes in areas such as smoking, diet, exercise and sun exposure can play a significant role in risk for several cancers.

A woman’s lifetime chance of getting breast cancer is about one in eight. Obese women are up to 60 percent more likely to develop any cancer than normal-weight women, according to a 2006 study by British researchers.

Many breast cancers are fueled by estrogen, a hormone produced in fat tissue. So experts suspect that the fatter a woman is, the more estrogen she’s likely to produce, which could in turn fuel breast cancer. Even in slim women, experts believe exercise can help reduce the cancer risk by converting more fat into muscle. Yet any discussion of weight and breast cancer is considered sensitive because some may misconstrue that as the medical establishment blaming women for their disease.

The American Cancer Society Web site says the connection between weight and cancer risk is complex. It says risk appears to increase for women who gain weight as adults, but not for women who have been overweight since childhood. The cancer society recommends 45 to 60 minutes of physical activity five or more days a week to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

In the 1980s and 1990s, breast cancer rates steadily increased, paralleling a rise in obesity and the use of estrogen-containing hormones after menopause.

La Vecchia said countries like Italy and France — where obesity rates have been stable for the past two decades — show that weight can be controlled at a population level.

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