Could maintaining a healthy weight lead to a lower chance of breast cancer coming back? A new national clinical trial is hoping to answer that question.

Study Looks at Connection Between Body Weight and Breast Cancer

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Could maintaining a healthy weight lead to a lower chance of breast cancer coming back? A new national clinical trial is hoping to answer that question.

Sentara joins national breast cancer trial

Sentara is joining forces with a national clinical trial that is evaluating the role of weight loss in the treatment of patients with early-stage breast cancer. This large-scale study involves more than a thousand sites nationwide and hopes to enroll more than 3,000 patients.

Marybeth Hughes, M.D., a surgical oncologist with Eastern Virginia Medical School and the Sentara Cancer Network, is currently enrolling patients at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, Sentara Princess Anne Hospital, Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital and Sentara Leigh Hospital.

Can weight loss mean a lower chance of cancer recurrence?

“The goal of the study is to see if patients who lose weight have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and if weight loss increases survival rates,” says Dr. Hughes. “We already know that for other cancers—such as colorectal cancer—maintaining a healthy body weight and exercising regularly reduces the risk of recurrence.”

Evidence suggests that losing weight might be just as critical for patients with breast cancer. Fat cells generate estrogen and estrone (a weak estrogen). These hormones can bind to estrogen receptors. “If the breast cancer tumor has estrogen receptors, excess fat can feed the cancer,” says Dr. Hughes.

What is the role of participants in the Breast Cancer Weight Loss Study?

The Breast Cancer Weight Loss Study (also called the BWEL Study) will have two groups of participants:

  • All participants will receive two years of wellness education—in the form of printed materials, digital information and webinar access—on topics such as:
    • Nutrition
    • Exercise
    • Healthy cooking
  • One subgroup of participants will also get two years of telephone-based weight loss intervention. The individualized plans will include regular phone calls to:
    • Discuss activity and weight loss goals
    • Help patients start—and stick to—a reduced calorie diet

A clinical trial where everyone benefits

“What I love about this study is that everyone enrolled is getting educated on how to be healthier,” says Dr. Hughes. “And I believe that any way we can move the needle toward a healthier lifestyle will improve the outcomes for patients with breast cancer.”

Qualifying for the BWEL study

To qualify, you must:

  • Have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 27
  • Have been diagnosed with Stage II or III HER-2 negative breast cancer within the past year
  • Be finished with treatment (such as chemotherapy and radiation) before starting the study program
  • Not have diabetes
  • Not have been diagnosed with other cancers in the past four years

If you are interested in participating in the BWEL study, please contact the Sentara Cancer Network at 1-888-220-2214.