The weight of obesity in breast cancer progression and metastasis: Clinical and molecular perspectives

Semin Cancer Biol. 2020 Feb;60:274-284. doi: 10.1016/j.semcancer.2019.09.001. Epub 2019 Sep 3.


The escalating epidemic of overweight and obesity is currently recognized as one of the most significant health and economic concern worldwide. At the present time, over 1.9 billion adults and more than 600 million people can be, respectively, classified as overweight or obese, and numbers will continue to increase in the coming decades. This alarming scenario implies important clinical implications since excessive adiposity can progressively cause and/or exacerbate a wide spectrum of co-morbidities, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and even certain types of cancer, including breast cancer. Indeed, pathological remodelling of white adipose tissue and increased levels of fat-specific cytokines (mainly leptin), as a consequence of the obesity condition, have been associated with several hallmarks of breast cancer, such as sustained proliferative signaling, cellular energetics, inflammation, angiogenesis, activating invasion and metastasis. Different preclinical and clinical data have provided evidence indicating that obesity may worsen the incidence, the severity, and the mortality of breast cancer. In the present review, we will discuss the epidemiological connection between obesity and breast cancer progression and metastasis and we will highlight the candidate players involved in this dangerous relationship. Since the major cause of death from cancer is due to widespread metastases, understanding these complex mechanisms will provide insights for establishing new therapeutic interventions to prevent/blunt the effects of obesity and thwart breast tumor progression and metastatic growth.

Keywords: Adipokines; Breast cancer; Leptin; Metastasis; Obesity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leptin / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Obesity / complications*


  • Biomarkers
  • Leptin