Clinical trial: Florida Hospital explores weight gain and breast cancer recurrence

“You have cancer.”

Hearing those words once is devastating. Is there anything you can do to prevent hearing them a second or third time?

Many studies have focused on factors affecting cancer recurrence, and now a national clinical trial is underway to determine whether losing weight changes the risk of cancer recurrence in women who have been diagnosed with early breast cancer. Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center has opened a National Cancer Institute clinical trial to address this question.

“The Breast Cancer Weight Loss study (BWEL) will enroll more than 3,000 patients with breast cancer in the United States and Canada,” said Lindsay Cashio, the hospital’s assistant director of communications. “The results of this study will help researchers understand if losing weight after breast cancer diagnosis helps to decrease the risk of breast cancer recurrence. It is very exciting, as it is the first large, national, randomized trial examining this issue.”

The trial has two parts. One for those on the trial itself, the other for those in a health education control group, about half in each. Admission to the clinic trial is limited to stage II and stage III breast cancer patients who are within one year of their initial diagnosis, older than 18, with a BMI of 27 or greater and other criteria.

For those women who are not eligible for the trial, a Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center Cancer Institute registered dietitian will run a six-week series of classes called “Weight Loss for Breast Cancer Survivors.”

Judy King, 75, Ormond Beach, is attending the classes, which she heard about while volunteering at the cancer center. In 2002, King had a mastectomy on one breast, and in 2011, a recurrence on the same side, affecting her lymph nodes.

“After five years, you think you are home clear,” she said, but studies show that recurrence can happen at any time. King’s recurrence was discovered by her masseuse, who told her: “I don’t like the feel of this. You need to have this checked.”

Dr. Eric Harris said weight gain after breast cancer treatment is common. Harris, partnering with the hospital and the trial, is a hematologist/oncologist, said stress, anxiety and supportive care drugs, such as steroids and hormonal anti-estrogen treatments, can cause increased appetite and weight gain. “Patients can feel pretty beat-up following treatment.”

In secondary prevention, doctors address diet and exercise, estrogen, smoking and keys to a healthy lifestyle.

“For the first time, with this trial, we can count the…