Can Addressing Obesity Help Black Women With Breast Cancer?

The National Cancer Institute is awarding grants to help find out.

Posted: 04/27/2012 04:42 PM EDT

The National Cancer Institute has awarded the University of Illinois at Chicago's Institute for Health Research and Policy a $3 million grant to implement a five-year program that will focus on weight loss interventions for African-American breast cancer patients.


These types of interventions are important because past data suggests that extra weight may have a negative impact on survival rates and may speed up the progression of cancer among obese and overweight women. This is particularly important for Black women, given that we are disproportionately obese and overweight.


Last October, reported on a study conducted by Women’s Circle of Health Study, the Carolina Breast Cancer Study, the Black Women’s Health Study and the Multiethnic Cohort Study that found that 52 percent of Blacks in the study were obese, compared with 26 percent of whites."


This Chicago-based program, called Moving Forward, will recruit 280 African-American breast cancer survivors who are overweight and who have finished cancer treatment within the past six months. They are recruiting the women from areas that are heavily populated with Black women — Roseland/Pullman, Englewood, Austin, South Shore and Lawndale — and will provide woman with a free 12-month membership to a participating park district location. Participants will have to work out twice a week and attend educational classes about healthy living and eating better. 


A press statement about the program emphasized why they are sorely needed:


African American women exhibit higher breast cancer mortality rates than white women; in Chicago the breast cancer mortality rate for black women is 116 percent higher than the rate for white women, says Melinda Stolley, principal investigator of the study and institute researcher.


Poor diet, lack of physical activity and obesity contribute to breast cancer progression and may intensify other conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, she said.


"One of the cruel things about being diagnosed with breast cancer is that most women gain weight post-treatment — on average 5 to 7 pounds — which is not fully understood. We want to target African American women because nearly 78 percent of African American women are overweight or obese."


Physical activity has been shown to improve survival in breast cancer patients, Stolley said, but there has been very little research on weight loss in African American breast cancer survivors.



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