Nutrition Research Reviews

Research Article

Obesity, body fat distribution and breast cancer

Julie A Lovegrovea1 c1

a1 Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition, School of Food Biosciences, The University of Reading, PO Box 226, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AP, UK


Abstract Strong epidemiological data exists implicating anthropometric risk factors in breast cancer aetiology. In premenopausal women the risk of breast cancer increases with increased height, yet decreases with increasing weight and BMI. Although the evidence is not strong, a counter-intuitive positive relationship between central adiposity and premenopausal breast cancer risk is emerging. In post-menopausal women an increased risk in breast cancer has been found for all anthropometric measures: height, weight, BMI, measures of central adiposity (waist:hip ratio and waist circumference) and weight gain, with breast size being a possible additional risk factor. Weight loss as a strategy for reducing breast cancer risk seems to offer a viable prophylaxis in obese post-menopausal women, although data are limited. The evidence for anthropometric measures in relation to breast cancer risk is consistently stronger for post-menopausal women compared with premenopausal women and seems to be dependent on age. A number of possible biological mechanisms have been offered to explain the link between breast cancer risk and anthropometric measures. It has been hypothesised that obesity, especially central fat deposits, linked to insulin resistance, increases circulating hormones such as oestrogens, androgens, insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and decreased levels of hormone-binding proteins such as steroid hormone-binding globulin and IGF-1 binding protein-1. Thus there are resulting increased concentrations of bioavailable sex hormones, which have been linked to increased breast cancer risk. As obesity is an important modifiable risk factor, which has been linked to increased post-menopausal breast cancer, public health recommendations to maintain ideal weight throughout life are warranted.


c1 Corresponding author: Dr J. A. Lovegrove, fax +44 118931 0080, email j.a.lovegrove@afnovell.reading.