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Breast Cancer Survivors Gain Weight at a Higher Rate Than Their Cancer-Free Peers

Breast cancer survivors with a family history of the disease, including those who carry BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, gained more weight over the course of four years than cancer-free women – especially if they were treated with chemotherapy, according to a prospective study by Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers.

Data from earlier studies suggest that breast cancer survivors who gain weight may have a higher risk of having their cancer return, the researchers say, noting that gains of 11 pounds or more are also associated with a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

For the study, the researchers reviewed a baseline questionnaire and a follow-up one completed four years later by 303 breast cancer survivors and 307 cancer-free women enrolled in an ongoing and long-term study at the Kimmel Cancer Center of women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Study participants completed a baseline and at least one follow-up questionnaire between 2005 and 2013, and one-quarter of the subjects were premenopausal.

In the four-year span, survivors gained significantly more weight – 3.6 pounds on average – than cancer-free women. Among 180 survivors diagnosed with cancer during the last five years of the study period, 37 (21 percent) gained at least 11 pounds over a four-year period compared with 35 of 307 (11 percent) of their cancer-free peers. The weight change findings remained the same after accounting for other factors associated with weight gain, such as increasing age, transition to menopause and level of physical activity, the researchers say.

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