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Have Breast Cancer? Don't Lose Weight

It's counter-intuitive or even crazy but a new study has shown that women with certain types of breast cancer should not -- that's right -- should not lose weight. Doing that might even increase your chances for recurrence.

I found this astounding. As a two-time survivor of breast cancer myself, I'd always been told to keep the weight off. In fact, I also learned that being overweight can actually lead to,among other things, a diagnosis of cancer. And certainly, once you've had it, you're advised to not gain too much weight.

JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network examined body mass index (BMI) data for people with HER2-positive early breast cancer, and found a 5% weight loss in patients over two years in was associated with worse outcomes. Weight gain over the same time period did not affect survival rates, according to

This came as a shock to me. So all my exercise and years at Weight Watchers were in vain?

“The finding that weight loss, and not weight gain, was associated with worse outcomes is unexpected,” the web site quotes lead researcher Samuel Martel, MD, Universitè de Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, who worked with researchers in Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, as well as the National Cancer Institute and the Mayo Clinic in the United States.

“We were unable to make a distinction between intentional versus unintentional weight loss, so it’s a matter of speculation whether worse outcomes were due to weight loss, or vice versa. We hope our findings highlight the importance of data collection on weight in oncology trials, and gaining greater understanding of the metabolic processes after cancer diagnosis that may impact outcomes," he adds.

So you thought all you had to do with this disease was survive? I'm sure research did not indicate that morbidly obese women should not lose weight. Survivors have always been told that keeping your weight off is a good way to keep the disease off, too.

The data came from a trial which collected height and weight data in over 8,000 patients with HER2-positive early breast cancer treated with chemotherapy and Herceptin, a protein that was created by the HER2 gene that can , which was only discovered in 1986 and was used for women with advanced breast cancer in the early '90s.

In the trial, a little more than 2% of the participants were underweight at the start of treatment, 45.3% were normal weight, 32.1% were classified as overweight, with another 20.4% obese—defined as a BMI greater than 30.

As I'd originally been told, "initial obesity was associated with worse outcomes, including more frequent and serious adverse events leading to treatment discontinuation, as well as significantly worse overall survival rates," newswise reports.

My question was addressed by one of the researchers on the trial. “It was surprising to see that more than 5% weight loss at 2 years was associated with poorer distant disease-free survival. Is our general advice to obese/overweight patient to exercise and lose weight wrong?” asks Anthony D. Elias, MD, University of Colorado Cancer Center, a member of the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines (NCCN Guidelines®) Panel for Breast Cancer.

Additional research suggested that the relapse curves for those with weight loss are steeper in the second and third years of follow-up, but thereafter are relatively parallel, according to the study. "It’s possible that the weight loss observed early may be an indication for impending relapse of breast cancer," says Dr. Elias.

Researchers point out that this study may highlight the need to focus on the importance of weight management in cancer survivorship.

You'll never convince me that losing weight is a bad thing. I didn't have HER2 cancer so I suppose it doesn't apply to me, anyway. But women (and men) facing breast cancer should do anything they can to live another day, and that means anything.

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