A Normal BMI Doesn’t Clear Your Risk for Breast Cancer


Unbelievably, there are almost 4 million women in the United States that have a history of breast cancer. Breast cancer is, in fact, the most common cancer diagnosis for women. Many of us have encouraged friends or family members who have bravely fought breast cancer. It may even be a disease we fear that we will be diagnosed with one day.

There are things you can begin doing today to lower your risk for breast cancer. As we uncover the risk factors of breast cancer and the lifestyle changes that need to be made in order to lower our risk, we need to pay close attention to the surprising revelations noted in a 2018 study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Special Conference.

Risk Factors

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that age increases the risk for breast cancer and that most women diagnosed are over the age of 50. Breast cancer typically becomes a concern for women who have experienced menopause. Women who begin menopause after the age of 55 are at a higher risk because their body has been exposed to estrogen for a significant amount of time.

Having dense breasts or not carrying a child full term also raises your risk for breast cancer. Alcohol consumption, hormone therapy, and a family or personal history of breast cancer are all known risk factors. However, many doctors will emphasize that obesity after menopause has a strong association with a high risk for breast cancer as well as a lack of physical activity.

The Details of the Study

The study reveals that overweight and obesity after menopause are not the only things to be concerned about. An increased amount of body fat creates a risk for breast cancer diagnosis-even if you have a normal body mass index (BMI). The study followed 3,460 women with a normal BMI for an average of 16 years. BMI calculations determine body fat based on weight versus height and a normal BMI is considered 18.5-25.

However, a BMI cannot take into account the weight of muscle mass and bone density; therefore, it cannot give a clear indication of the amount of pure fat in the body. This study included a technique called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) to more accurately determine the amount of actual body fat in each of the participants. Of the 3,460 women who had never received a previous cancer diagnosis, 182 developed invasive breast cancer. Furthermore, of the 182 who developed breast cancer, 146 showed estrogen receptor positivity, meaning their cancer development was expedited due to the presence of estrogen.

In fact, the women who had a normal BMI but a high content of body fat were twice as likely to develop estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer than the women who had a normal BMI but low body fat content.

Steps to Lower Your Risk

This new information further validates the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet in attempting to lowering your risk for cancer diagnosis. The women in the study who exhibited high-fat content also noted lower levels of physical activity. We should take this as a word of caution. Even if you are currently not overweight or obese, and even have a normal BMI, you will benefit from regular exercise in order to reduce the amount of fat content in your body as well as your risk for breast cancer.

The Woman’s Clinic is dedicated to giving women excellent care in all stages of life. It may be time to schedule a mammogram. Regular screening and early detection are important for cancer prevention. For more detailed results, The Woman’s Clinic is now offering 3D mammography at the Breast Center. If you have questions or concerns about your risk for breast cancer, schedule an appointment with us today.



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