Metabolism and breast cancer risk: frontiers in research and practice

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Feb;113(2):288-96. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.08.015. Epub 2012 Nov 3.


Fifty years ago the causes of cancer were largely unknown. Since then, it has become clear that a strong relationship exists between obesity and many cancers, particularly postmenopausal breast cancer. A major challenge in understanding the link between obesity and cancer risk has been elucidating the biological basis underlying the association. Although this remains unresolved, the main candidate systems linking adiposity and cancer risk are insulin and the insulin-like growth factor-1 axis, endogenous reproductive hormones, and chronic inflammation. Our purpose is to provide a mechanistic overview of the hypothesized relationship between diet, physical activity, and obesity with breast cancer risk and progression. In addition, we will provide examples of recently funded randomized clinical trials examining metabolic risk factors in relation to breast cancer risk and survival. Additional research is warranted to validate the strength and consistency of the relationships among diet, these biomarkers, and breast cancer risk. As these relationships become clearer, future studies will be needed to develop effective intervention programs to prevent breast cancer and improve cancer prognosis by promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Diet*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Insulin