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BCRF Funded Study Links Weight Loss with Telomere Length and Breast Cancer Risk

By BCRF | December 22, 2015

BCRF investigator Dr. Melinda Irwin Presents Findings at SABCS

Research has consistently shown a link between obesity and increased breast cancer risk. In a recently published study presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, BCRF investigator Dr. Melinda Irwin of Yale University probed this association one step further to better understand the biology behind this relationship.

Irwin and her team conducted a novel study to explore the connection between weight loss and telomere length in breast cancer survivors. Telomeres are tiny protective caps at the ends of chromosomes. They get shorter every time a cell divides, making them a marker of aging.  Shorter telomeres have also been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer mortality.

Dr. Irwin and her team compared telomere length in two groups of breast cancer survivors: one following a 6-month diet and exercise-induced weight loss intervention and another receiving usual care.

The results determined that telomeres were slower to shorten in breast cancer survivors who lost weight through diet and exercise. In some cases, telomere shortening even reversed, suggesting that being overweight is associated with shorter telomere length, and that weight loss can prevent of reverse telomere shortening. The findings provide additional insight into the association of obesity and breast cancer risk, in this case, risk of recurrence.

In an interview for Yale News, Irwin stated that the growing body of research linking healthy lifestyle factors, such as maintaining a healthy weight and exercise, with improved breast cancer survival is compelling and should be part of comprehensive cancer care.

“We feel there should be a shift in how breast cancer care is delivered, and should include increased access to and reimbursement of lifestyle behavioral counseling and programs,” Irwin said.

Read more about the study here: