The Metabolic Syndrome is characterized by a constellation of symptoms including central obesity, elevated blood triglycerides and LDL-cholesterol, low levels of HDL-cholesterol, insulin resistance and high blood pressure. While it is clear that the metabolic syndrome is linked to one's risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, the potential link between the metabolic syndrome and other diseases is less clear. Because postmenopausal women have the highest incidence of breast cancer and are frequently affected by the metabolic syndrome, some have suggested that the metabolic syndrome might be a risk factor for breast cancer.
A new breast cancer study published online ahead of print in Cancer Biology & Therapy examined this possible link in postmenopausal women. For this study, breast cancer researchers enrolled 777 postmenopausal women with and without breast cancer, analyzed measurements associated with the metabolic syndrome (body weight, body mass index, waist size, blood pressure, serum lipids, blood sugar, insulin, and more) and asked each study volunteer to complete a questionnaire about dietary habits, physical activity, and medical history. The breast cancer researchers reported
30% of postmenopausal breast cancer patients were found to have an established metabolic syndrome, compared to only 19% of postmenopausal women without breast cancer.
None of the individual markers of the metabolic syndrome were linked to breast cancer incidence.
30% of the postmenopausal breast cancer patients had at least three of the metabolic syndrome features.
This is a very interesting study that potentially links the metabolic syndrome to breast cancer risk. The study investigators suggested that breast cancer development might be associated with the activation of multiple metabolic syndrome pathways since the potential link between these two conditions was only seen when at least 3 metabolic syndrome features were present. Interestingly, many of the interventions known to combat the metabolic syndrome are also known to decrease breast cancer risk. Initially, treatment of the metabolic syndrome is approached through diet and lifestyle changes, including weight loss, adequate levels of moderate to vigorous exercise, and development of healthy dietary habits. Maintaining a healthy body weight, getting plenty of exercise, and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet are also vital parts of our fight against breast cancer. Whether developing healthier lifestyle habits decreases the metabolic syndrome, which in turn reduces breast cancer risk or whether healthier lifestyle habits have independent beneficial effects on breast cancer and the metabolic syndrome, it is clear that healthier lifestyle habits can effectively reduce the risk for both these diseases.