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Study shows weight gain, breast cancer are connected

August 01, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - The results of a national breast cancer study released earlier this year may encourage women to think more seriously about weight loss, said Andrew Oh, a gynecologist with Comprehensive Women's Care in Hagerstown.

According to an American Cancer Society study, women who gain 20 to 30 pounds after high school are 40 percent more likely to get breast cancer than women who keep the weight off, said spokesman Steve Jones of the society's Baltimore office. The study included more than 62,000 post-menopausal women and represents one of the largest studies of weight and breast cancer, according to a press release from the society.

News of the study has Cindy Funkhouser of Hagerstown feeling better about her recent decision to work on losing weight. Two months ago, Funkhouser said she joined a local fitness club. She said she's glad the media are reporting more stories on women's health.

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"Women have taken a back seat to important health news issues and heart issues over the years," said Funkhouser, 56. "Staying in shape is a lifelong commitment."

Virginia Dawson, also of Hagerstown, said the study doesn't reveal anything she hasn't suspected. Like Funkhouser, she's pleased by the recent increase in health studies focusing on women's health.

A retired respiratory therapist, Dawson said her doctor reminds her regularly of her weight problem.

"He's always nice about it," said Dawson, 74.

While weight loss isn't her favorite topic, Dawson said slimming down has been an uphill battle that started following a knee injury nearly 30 years ago.

Dawson said she often is confused and frustrated by fad diets that are popular one minute and unpopular the next. She said she has yet to find a diet that is effective for her.

"Every time I start a diet, I get sick as a dog the first couple of days. I get flulike symptoms," Dawson said.

To fight cancers linked to excess weight, Jones said the society partnered two years ago with Weight Watchers to launch the Great American Weigh In. It's a program that educates the public about the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight.

"With the Great American Weigh In, we hope to have the same amount of success in reducing weight as we did with the Great American Smokeout in reducing smoking over time," Jones said.

Unlike other breast cancer risk factors that are hereditary or linked to a woman's health history, Oh said being overweight presents a different challenge for women.

"Of all the risk factors, weight gain is modifiable," Oh said. "This adds urgency to the obesity epidemic that we have in this country."

Christina Miller of Hagerstown soon will begin meeting with a nutritionist to discuss meal preparation for her 4-month-old son. Miller, 29, who isn't overweight, said she will think about paying closer attention to her own eating habits to avoid gaining weight in the future.

"It's upsetting for me," Miller said of the study results. "It's just one more thing to look out for."

Breast cancer doesn't run in Miller's family, but she said an older family member had a scare a few years ago when she discovered a benign lump in her breast.

Instead of focusing on the negative, Oh said the American Cancer Society study will empower women in the fight against breast cancer.

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