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Making the Connection: Metabolic Syndrome and Breast Cancer

Metabolic syndrome is a group of health problems that increase your chance of heart disease. It also increases your risk of developing breast cancer. If you have metabolic syndrome, taking preventive steps to manage it now is important because having it longer may put you at greater risk.

In a recent eight-year study by the American Association for Cancer Research, researchers looked at whether women were more likely to develop breast cancer after menopause if they had metabolic syndrome. While simply having metabolic syndrome only slightly increased risk, women who had metabolic syndrome three to five years before their breast cancer diagnosis had about double the risk.

How Metabolic Syndrome Might Influence Breast Cancer

Factors that seem to be most closely linked to breast cancer risk in women with metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar, or glucose.

Insulin levels are also frequently high in people with metabolic syndrome. Insulin is a hormone the body uses to help change blood sugar into energy. Researchers suspect the hormone may play a role in breast cancer. Insulin can promote breast cancer cell growth, and high blood sugar levels can help malignant cells grow faster. This may be a reason why women with diabetes are more likely to develop breast cancer.

Daily Choices Can Lower Risk

Managing your metabolic syndrome in can help protect you from heart disease and diabetes, and may also help lower your risk for breast cancer. Here's how:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week and work up to 60 minutes daily.
  • Avoid alcohol or stick to one drink a day. Drinking alcohol can raise blood pressure and has been linked to breast cancer.
  • Eat a healthy, low-fat diet with lots of foods high in soluble fiber, like fruits, beans and whole grains, and low in sodium.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Take your medications for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and controlling blood sugar.

Source: American Association for Cancer Research, Krames Staywell

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