Swedish researchers have determined women who were heavyset as youngsters have a lower risk for breast cancer than others.
According to Dr. Jingmei Li of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, a female’s body weight throughout her life plays different roles in her risk to develop breast cancer. Although being overweight as an infant or an adult may increase the risk, during the window of time when a female is 6 or 7 years of age, being heavier can have an advantage.
Li and her researchers studied 2,818 Swedish women with breast cancer and 3,111 women without the disease. The women were shown a series of nine figure outlines and asked to choose one that best represented their body size at age 7. The findings were that women who had larger bodies during childhood were 27 percent less likely to have breast cancer than women who were leaner as 7-year-olds.
Researchers also determined that being heavier as a girl protected women against all tumor types the researchers studied. The protective effect was even stronger for tumors that didn’t carry estrogen receptors; larger childhood body size reduced the risk of these tumors by 60 percent, while it reduced the risk of estrogen-receptor positive tumors by 20 percent.
The reason behind the reduced risk could be due to higher levels of estrogen in the bodies of heavier girls during key moments of mammary development in youth. These estrogen levels may help protect the breasts later on in life.
Parents should not go to extreme lengths to increase the weight of girls around the age of 7. Being overweight carries with it its own health risks.
“There is definitely no reason for overfeeding of the kids to get them to reach a particular body size,” says Li.
Being overweight as a child does not eliminate the chances of getting breast cancer. Healthy eating, routine self-breast examinations, annual mammography, and physicals with a doctor are advised steps to help women remain healthy.