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Weight Gain and Hot Flashes in Breast Cancer Survivors

Posted Mar 08 2010 7:25am
The majority of breast cancers are hormone receptor positive, meaning that receptors for estrogen and/or progesterone are present on the breast cancer tumor cells.  These cancers are routinely treated with some form of endocrine therapy, typically anti-estrogens like tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors like anastrozole.  Since aromatase inhibitors block the production of estrogen thereby lowering the body's estrogen levels, one of the common side effects in breast cancer survivors is hot flashes.  However, the risk factors for hot flashes in breast cancer survivors are poorly understood.

A new breast cancer study was conducted to determine if body size and/or weight change after breast cancer diagnosis was related to hot flashes in breast cancer survivors receiving aromatase inhibitor therapy.  For this study, 300 breast cancer survivors receiving aromatase inhibitors were enrolled and changes in body weight and incidence of hot flashes were assessed.  Results of this analysis showed
  • 59% of study volunteers experienced hot flashes and 32% reported moderate to severe hot flashes.
  • Current body size was not related to hot flash occurrence or severity.
  • Breast cancer survivors who gained 10 lbs or more were twice as likely to experience hot flashes and about 2.5 times more likely to have severe hot flashes.
As we have discussed before , being overweight or obese is an important risk factor for breast cancer and can lead to poorer outcomes.  While this new study does not look at breast cancer outcomes, it does indicate that gaining weight, even as little as 10 lbs, increases the amount and severity of hot flashes in breast cancer survivors being treated with aromatase inhibitors.  Aromatase inhibitors are an effective breast cancer therapy for some breast cancers, but like most drugs, they carry their own side effects.  While hot flashes might not be considered a 'serious' side effect by some individuals, hot flashes can be debilitating and have a very negative impact on a breast cancer survivor's quality of life.  Discovering the factors that increase the risk of these side effects is an important research endeavor.  This new research shines light on yet another reason to maintain a healthy body weight throughout life.

You can read my book Fight Now: Eat & Live Proactively Against Breast Cancer at to learn about diet and lifestyle changes you can make to reduced your breast cancer risk.
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