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A recent Cornell University study published in Science Translational Medicine has shown a correlation between obesity and changes in breast tissue that can lead to a myriad of diseases, including cancer. The study also shows that the prognosis for obese women with breast cancer is worse than those who are not obese. The extracellular matrix, tissue that surrounds fat cells in the breast, can begin to stiffen as people gain weight. This stiffening is conducive to the development of cancerous cells. Typically, the stiffening of the extracellular matrix is limited to scar tissue formation from trauma, surgery or other damage. In obese women, however, this tissue seems to form without any discernible catalyst.
Developing a greater understanding of these bodily mechanisms allows for improvements in risk assessment based on more detailed scanning of breast tissue. It may also spur a change in breast tissue donor criteria as breast tissue donated by obese women may increase the risk of follow-on cancer.
Our Take On This Research:
This latest research correlating obesity to breast cancer is not a complete surprise or revelation. We have known for years that obesity wreaks havoc on the body and is causal of other forms of cancer. What the study does tell us, however is that the disease of obesity reaches even further than we expected.
The conclusions drawn in this study will help physicians more accurately predict the risk of developing breast cancer, especially in obese women. While participation in annual mammograms has increased over time (improving early detection stats), this study shows the need for more detailed testing that can detect and measure the stiffening of breast tissue.
While additional work needs to be performed on exactly why and how obesity increases the risk of breast cancer, this knowledge does give us a leg up in the treatment and prevention of a disease that affects about 1 in 8 women in the United States.