New Study Unravels Link Between Obesity and Breast Cancer

The study published in Science Translational Medicine found that tissue stiffening in the breasts of obese women can drive the development of malignant disease.

Scientists at Cornell University have uncovered a mechanism that drives breast tumorigenesis in obese women. Obesity, the authors explain, causes fibrotic remodeling of the fat tissue; these structural changes promoted the growth of premalignant as well as malignant breast cells. Irrespective of whether the weight gain was genetic or diet-related, mouse models developed by the researchers showed stiffening of mammary tissue, which promoted overgrowth of cells.

Stromal changes caused by obesity was the primary cause of these changes, the authors hypothesized in the paper published in Science Translational Medicine. The authors found that obese mice produced a significantly greater number of myofibroblasts, which deposited a stiffer extracellular matrix, and the resulting mechanosignaling, the authors claim, stimulated the malignant potential of breast cancer cells. To evaluate whether weight loss could reverse tissue stiffening, the authors placed the mice on a calorie-restricted diet and discovered reduced myofibroblasts and a hint of reduction in tissue stiffening.

These results have a wider implication, especially for women with dense breast tissue, which is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer when detected on a screening mammogram. According to the authors, fat can mask the density readings and necessitate high-resolution imaging in these women. While the authors hypothesize that weight loss could reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, studies that directly attempt to address the hypothesis are essential.

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