Body Mass Index (BMI) is a Significant Risk Factor for Breast Cancer, Not Body Shape

First Posted: Apr 16, 2014 01:17 PM EDT

Abdominal obesity is linked to numerous conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and forms of cancer. A new study suggests that one's body shape as a result of obesity does not necessarily pose a higher risk for breast cancer.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated from a person's weight and height, which provides a reliable indicator of body fatness that can help determine risks for various health problems. American Cancer Society researchers conducted a comprehensive study of nearly 29,000 women to determine the significance of BMI and risk for breast cancer.

The researchers found that body shape itself is not an independent risk factor for breast cancer, refuting results and findings from previous studies. The study, published in the April 2014 issue of Cancer Causes and Control, explored the theory that having an "apple shaped" body (weight concentrated in the chest and torso) poses a higher risk for breast cancer than having a "pear shaped" body (weight concentrated in the hips, thighs, and buttocks.

The American Cancer Society researchers, led by Mia Gadet, PhD, analyzed data from women participating in the Cancer Prevention Study II to explore the body shape theory. After finding a statistically significant association between waist circumference ("apple shaped" body) and postmenopausal breast cancer risk, the researchers adjusted for BMI and the link between the two was no longer.

"The message is that if you have a high BMI, regardless if you are pear or apple shaped, you are at higher risk of breast cancer," said Dr. Gaudet in a news release. "Most prior studies on this issue looked at BMI or at waist circumference, but had not looked at them together. This study brings some clarity to the association between obesity and risk of breast cancer."

This information could be useful for older women because they'll be reaffirmed that it's probably more important to be in good shape rather than possessing a certain body shape. Weight gain is typical as age progresses, but that doesn't mean someone is at immediate risk for anything, because everybody has a different body type and shape.

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