[Skip to Content]

Should weight loss be part of breast cancer treatment?

The Upstate Cancer Center is taking part in a study to see whether losing weight can help prevent breast cancer from recurring.

The Upstate Cancer Center is taking part in a study to see whether losing weight can help prevent breast cancer from recurring.


An obese woman with breast cancer is at increased risk for recurrence, compared with healthy-weight patients.

Researchers want to know whether she can reduce her risk of recurrence by losing weight.

Central New Yorkers can help find the answer.

The Upstate Cancer Center is one of several sites in the United States where women can enroll in a study that will examine the effectiveness of weight loss programs after breast cancer diagnosis. Women are eligible to participate if they have invasive breast cancer that has not spread. Participants receive encouragement via telephone, a subscription to a health magazine and various supportive mailings designed to help them lose weight.

Mijung Lee, MD

Mijung Lee, MD

Oncologist Mijung Lee, MD, says the study is important. “Right now, we can tell patients to lose weight. But how much is really therapeutic?” Losing what percentage of body weight will make a difference?  Lee says having clear data would help doctors give patients clear goals.

Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer want to focus on treatment, Lee says. It can be a stressful time, which is perhaps not an ideal time to launch a weight-loss program.

Still, if researchers can prove that losing weight improves a woman‘s outcome, that may provide incentive for her to succeed at weight loss.

Advice from major cancer groups

Five major cancer organizations agree on the importance of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight for breast cancer survivors. Among suggestions for how to do that:

-- Pay attention to calories consumed and calories expended.

-- Avoid high-calorie foods and beverages.

-- Limit alcoholic drinks.

-- Limit red meat and avoid processed meat.

-- Follow a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.

-- Eat foods that are low in sugar and saturated fats.

-- Include foods containing carotenoids or high in calcium.

-- Engage in physical activity or exercise daily, ideally more than 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.

-- Include strength training with aerobics.

-- Avoid prolonged sedentary behavior.

Sources: American Cancer Society, American Institute for Cancer Research, American Society of Clinical Oncology, National Comprehensive Cancer Network and World Cancer Research Fund International.

Cancer Care magazine winter 2019 coverThis article appears in the winter 2019 issue of Cancer Care magazine.