Weight Gain After Breast Cancer Diagnosis in Australia: Survey Results

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New study findings suggest that weight gain after breast cancer is a greater problem than previously thought. The first national survey on weight after breast cancer in Australia, published by Ee et al in BMC Cancer, found close to two-thirds (63.7%) of women reported weight gain at an average of approximately 19 lb after a breast cancer diagnosis, and overall, nearly one in five women (17%) added more than 44 lb.

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Researchers from NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University and ICON Cancer Centre, Sydney Adventist Hospital, Wahroonga, surveyed 309 women with breast cancer living in Australia using an anonymous, self-administered online cross-sectional survey between November 2017 and January 2018. The national sample consisted mainly of members from Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA).

The majority of women surveyed (77%) reported gaining weight within the first 12 to 18 months after diagnosis, which could be the ideal “window of opportunity” to provide additional support for weight management among women with breast cancer, said lead study author Carolyn Ee, MBBS, PhD, general practitioner and senior research fellow at NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University.

“As well as significant weight gain, we also found high levels of concern about weight among our survey participants. Timing may be the key in helping women to manage weight after a diagnosis of breast cancer,” she explained. “Cancer services and general practitioners play an important role in having early conversations with women, and in referring them to a team of qualified health-care professionals such as dieticians and exercise physiologists with experience in cancer,” she said.

The survey also found:

  • The proportion of women who were overweight or obese increased from 48% at time of diagnosis to 67% at the time of the survey, with the proportion of women who were obese almost doubling from 17% to 32%
  • The majority (69%) of women gained weight in excess of the rates reported in age-matched controls without breast cancer—an additional 5.36 lb over 5 years.

Dr. Ee added that after diagnosis of breast cancer, many women experience fatigue, which can be a barrier to staying active, and studies show exercise is an effective treatment for fatigue. However, for this to be feasible and sustainable, she says supervision by an experienced exercise physiologist is invaluable.

The researchers will next analyze the survey data to investigate reasons why women are gaining weight after breast cancer, with several risk factors reported in other studies, including the type of treatment that women receive, and whether or not they were menopausal before diagnosis and treatment.

The study authors concluded, “Although the findings from this survey should be interpreted cautiously due to a limited response rate and self-report nature, they suggest that women in Australia gain a considerable amount of weight after a diagnosis of breast cancer/[ductal carcinoma in situ] (in excess of age-matched data for weight gain) and report high levels of concern about their weight. Because weight gain after breast cancer may lead to poorer outcomes, efforts to prevent and manage weight gain must be prioritized and accelerated particularly in the first year after diagnosis.”

Disclosure: 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®.