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Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death among women living in the United States, claiming the lives of approximately 41,000 women each year. Being overweight or obese increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Findings from a new study indicate that women who lose weight after the age of 50 years and keep the weight off have reduced risk of developing breast cancer.

More than two-thirds of women living in the United States are overweight or obese. Excess body fat increases a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes, a known risk factor for cancer. Body fat also alters hormone levels, which may increase the risk of developing hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer. In addition, body fat secretes a wide array of pro-inflammatory substances that damage DNA and inhibit apoptosis.

The study involved more than 180,000 women who were 50 years of age and older from cohorts of 10 different prospective studies. The women were weighed three times over a period of 10 years. Those who lost weight and kept it off had a lower risk of breast cancer than women who did not lose weight.

Among women who lost 4 to 10 pounds, 10 to 20 pounds, or 20 or more pounds, risk decreased by 13 percent, 16 percent, and 26 percent, respectively. Among women who lost 20 or more pounds but gained a portion of the weight back, risk was reduced by 23 percent.

These findings point to the importance of public health interventions that promote weight loss among women as a means to reduce cancer risk.

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