Overweight Breast Cancer Survivors May Be at Increased Risk of Developing a Secondary Malignancy

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Breast cancer survivors who are overweight have a statistically significant increased risk of developing second primary cancers, according to results from a study conducted by Feigelson et al and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“These findings have important public health implications, given the number of breast cancer survivors with excess body weight,” said lead author Heather Spencer Feigelson, PhD, senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research. “Our study examined whether cancer survivors are at an increased risk of developing a second cancer and what factors contribute to this increased risk. Our findings truly underscore the need for effective weight loss … strategies, including nutrition and physical activity guidelines for breast cancer survivors.”

There are approximately 3.9 million breast cancer survivors in the United States today, and studies have found women diagnosed with breast cancer have an 18% increased risk for developing a second cancer compared to the general population. This increased risk is likely due to shared risk factors between the first and second cancers, genetic susceptibility, and long-term effects of breast cancer treatment.

Obesity is also strongly associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer. In fact, an estimated 55% of all cancers in women occur in those who are overweight or obese. This study sought to examine the association between body weight, as measured by body mass index (BMI), at initial breast cancer diagnosis and the risk of developing a second cancer among a large cohort of women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

Study Background

This study involved 6,481 women from Kaiser Permanente in Colorado and Washington, of whom 822 (12.7%) developed a second cancer. The majority of women were overweight (33.4%) or obese (33.8%) at the time of their initial diagnosis. The mean age at initial breast cancer diagnosis was 61 years, and most (82.2%) of the cohort was White. Black women comprised a small percentage of the cases, but were more likely to be obese (50.9% of Black women were obese compared to 33.6% of White women). The patients’ BMI at the time of the first cancer was extracted from their medical records.

The outcomes evaluated included all second cancers, obesity-related second cancers, any second breast cancer, and estrogen receptor (ER)-positive second breast cancers. Obesity-related cancer included colorectal, uterine, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers.


Women diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer were at a small but statistically significant increased risk for second cancers associated with increasing BMI. The association was more pronounced when the analysis was limited to cancers that were classified as obesity-related, or for second breast cancers, and was strongest for a diagnosis of ER-positive second breast cancer. This study was the first to examine the risk of a subsequent ER-positive breast cancer or obesity-related cancers specifically.

“This study illustrates that modifying one’s BMI may result in significant health and quality-of-life benefits among breast cancer survivors,” explained study coauthor Clara Bodelon, PhD, MS, of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Disclosure: The study was funded by the Intramural Research Program of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics of the National Cancer Institute, in addition to contracts with Kaiser Permanente in Colorado from the National Cancer Institute. Kaiser Permanente in Washington was supported by grants and contracts from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.