CHICAGO, IL—Carrying extra body fat increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and strokes, and also increases risk of cancer recurrence after a breast cancer diagnosis. A multi-institutional study, presented at the 2015 American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, has shown that female breast cancer survivors are able to lose weight through lifestyle changes.

“This is a significant finding because it shows that women are able to lose weight after breast cancer treatment, and this may lead to reduced risk of recurrence,” said Tim Byers, MD, MPH, who is the associate director for cancer prevention and control at the Colorado University (CU) Cancer Center in Aurora.

“Although we have not yet proven that weight loss reduces the chance of recurrence, I think these findings show that we should now move forward with a larger study,” said Byers. “If we can prove that intentional weight loss reduces breast cancer recurrence I believe weight control will become a routine part of oncology care.”

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The study, which lasted 2 years, followed nearly 700 women at four different sites around the United States: University of Colorado Cancer Center, Denver; University of California, San Diego; Washington University at Saint Louis; and University of Alabama, Birmingham.

“The study was a randomized controlled trial in which half of the participants took part in a lifestyle intervention. The goal was to lose 7% of their body weight and maintain it for 2 years,” said Rebecca Sedjo, PhD, assistant researcher professor at CU Cancer Center, and collaborator in the trial.

In the first 12 months, the average weight loss for the intervention group was 6% of their body weight.

In order to make lifestyle changes, the women in the intervention group attended motivational meetings that focused on increasing physical activity and decreasing caloric intake. The meetings tapered off from once a week to once a month in the first year. In the second year, newsletters were sent to participants to encourage continued weight control.

“We don’t need to focus on getting to the ‘ideal’ body type, whatever that may be,” said Byers. “If we can prove that modest weight loss improves the chance of better outcomes after breast cancer we need to encourage and support that.”