Obesity and body fat distribution and breast cancer prognosis

Cancer. 1991 Jan 15;67(2):523-8. doi: 10.1002/1097-0142(19910115)67:2<523::aid-cncr2820670234>3.0.co;2-o.


This study addresses the effect of obesity and body fat distribution on axillary lymph node involvement, tumor size, and estrogen receptor (ER) level in breast cancer patients. Anthropometric measurements were prospectively obtained on 248 consecutively and newly diagnosed women with invasive breast cancer. The anthropometric measurements evaluated were abdomen, thigh, subscapular, and midaxillary skinfolds; weight; and height. Weight and Quetelet Index (kg/m2) were significantly (P = 0.001) associated with lymph node involvement in postmenopausal patients. The abdomen:thigh skinfold ratio was significantly higher in premenopausal patients (P = 0.004) and postmenopausal (P = 0.03) without axillary node involvement compared with women with 4+ axillary node involvement. The abdomen:thigh skinfold was higher (P = 0.05) in women with smaller breast cancers (less than 2.0 cm) and higher ER levels. Weight and Quetelet Index did not affect tumor size or ER level. This study demonstrated that obese postmenopausal women who developed breast cancer tend to have more axillary node involvement than their leaner counterparts. Generalized obesity did not affect tumor size or ER level. Premenopausal and postmenopausal women with upper body fat distribution appear to be a subset of women who have a more favorable prognosis as measured by less lymph node involvement, smaller tumors, and higher levels of ER in their tumors.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Body Constitution
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Menopause / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Receptors, Estrogen / analysis
  • Skinfold Thickness


  • Receptors, Estrogen