The prevalence of obesity has been steadily increasing over the past few decades in several developed and developing countries, with resultant hazardous health implications. Substantial epidemiological evidence has shown that excessive adiposity strongly influences risk, prognosis, and progression of various malignancies, including breast cancer. Indeed, it is now well recognized that obesity is a complex physiologic state associated with multiple molecular changes capable of modulating the behavior of breast tumor cells as well of the surrounding microenvironment. Particularly, insulin resistance, hyperactivation of insulin-like growth factor pathways, and increased levels of estrogen due to aromatization by the adipose tissue, inflammatory cytokines, and adipokines contribute to breast cancerogenesis. Among adipokines, leptin, whose circulating levels increase proportionally to total adipose tissue mass, has been identified as a key member of the molecular network in obesity. This review summarizes the current knowledge on the epidemiological link existing between obesity and breast cancer and outlines the molecular mechanisms underlying this connection. The multifaceted role of the obesity adipokine leptin in this respect is also discussed.
Keywords: adipokines; adiponectin; breast cancer; estrogens; inflammation; insulin/insulin-like growth factor I; leptin; obesity.