Breast cancer and obesity: an update

Nutr Cancer. 2003;45(1):1-16. doi: 10.1207/S15327914NC4501_1.


Obesity has a complicated relationship to both breast cancer risk and the clinical behavior of the established disease. In postmenopausal women, particularly the elderly, various measures of obesity have been positively associated with risk. However, before menopause increased body weight is inversely related to breast cancer risk. In both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer, the mechanisms by which body weight and obesity affect risk have been related to estrogenic activity. Obesity has also been related to advanced disease at diagnosis and with a poor prognosis in both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer. Breast cancer in African-American women, considering its relationship to obesity, exhibits some important differences from those described in white women, although the high prevalence of obesity in African-American women may contribute to the relatively poor prognosis compared with white American women. Despite the emphasis on estrogens to explain the effects of obesity on breast cancer, other factors may prove to be equally or more important, particularly as they relate to expression of an aggressive tumor phenotype. Among these, this review serves to stress insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I, and leptin, and their relationship to angiogenesis, and transcriptional factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Estrogens / physiology
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin / physiology
  • Leptin / physiology
  • Menopause
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / ethnology
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Somatomedins / physiology


  • Estrogens
  • Insulin
  • Leptin
  • Somatomedins