Why Am I Gaining Weight With My Breast Cancer Treatments and What Can I Do About It?

Question: Why am I gaining weight with my breast cancer treatments and what can I do about it?

Answer:Weight gain with breast cancer treatment is quite common. Studies have shown that with adjuvant chemotherapy, chemotherapy to prevent a recurrence of cancer, that weight gain is seen is as many as 50 percent or more women who receive treatment. It seems to be more common in women who receive longer regimens than shorter regimens. It's also probably more common in women who are pre-menopausal at the time of diagnosis than those who are post-menopausal.

Some studies suggest that women who are pre-menopausal and go through menopause with chemotherapy are even more likely to gain weight. In the past it was thought that women gained weight with chemotherapy because they just ate too much, that they were nauseated and that in response to that nausea they were eating and eating more than usual.

But a number of studies have looked at this and have measured the frequency with which women are eating and how much they're eating and have shown that women receiving chemotherapy are not eating any more than they did before, and if anything, some studies suggest that they're actually eating less. What's going on may be that there's a change in metabolism, and there has been at least one study that has pointed us in that direction, but the answers are far, far from conclusive.

And in terms of what to do about it, I think probably, the single biggest thing is: number one -- to be aware that this can happen; number two -- not to be terribly distressed if it starts happening; and finally to try to take steps to minimize it. And those steps are to watch what one is eating -- although while receiving chemotherapy it's important not to go on too stringent a diet -- and also to try and get as much exercise as possible.

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