According to a recent article published in Breast Cancer Research, women with BRCA mutations can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by losing weight between the ages of 18 to 30 years.

Breast cancer is diagnosed in approximately 250,000 women annually in the United States. A small portion of these patients have genetic mutations that put them at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. These patients often undergo regular screening to detect the cancer in its most treatable early stages or, in some cases, undergo a mastectomy (surgical removal of the breasts) as a preventive measure. Individuals with strong family histories and/or mutations within the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a high risk of developing breast cancer within their lifetime. Continuing research investigates effective ways to monitor or prevent breast cancer from occurring in these women.

A multi-institutional study was recently conducted to evaluate the effects of body mass, or body weight, on outcomes in women with BRCA mutations. Women in this study had either BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations and had been given routine questionnaires regarding their weight, diagnosis of breast cancer, and other variables. Overall, a weight loss of more than 10 pounds between the ages of 18-30 years reduced the risk of developing breast cancer by the age of 30-49 years by 65% in women with a BRCA1 mutation. However, changes in weight later in life, between the ages of 30-40 years, did not seem to affect the risk of developing breast cancer.

This weight loss appeared to have the greatest affect on women with BRCA1 mutations: Those with BRCA2 mutations who lost the same amount of weight during the ages 18-30 years only experienced a 12% reduction in risk.

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The researchers concluded that women with BRCA mutations, particularly those with BRCA1 mutations, may significantly reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by the ages of 30-49 if they experience a weight loss of 10 pounds or greater between the ages of 18-30 years. These results have prompted further studies to evaluate weight issues and the risk of developing breast cancer. If you are a BRCA carrier, you may wish to discuss your individual risks and benefits of weight loss with your physician.

Reference: Kotsopoulos J, Olopado O, Ghadirian P, et al. Changes in body weight and the risk of breast cancer in BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers. Breast Cancer Research. 2005; 7: R833-R843. doi:10.1186/bcr1293

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