Obesity is a medical condition in which excess fat has accumulated in the body, to the extent that it may have a negative effect on health. Obese women have a higher risk and a worse prognosis for breast cancer, but the reasons have remained unclear till now. A new study has now revealed that obesity leads to a stiffening of the meshwork material that surrounds fat cells in the breast, called the extracellular matrix, and these biomechanical changes creates the right conditions for the growth of tumors.
Study senior author Claudia Fischbach, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University in New York, said, "We all know that obesity is bad; the metabolism changes and hormones change, so when looking for links to breast cancer, researchers almost exclusively have focused on the biochemical changes happening. But what these findings show is that there are also biophysical changes that are important."
These findings could lead to recognition of stiffer breast cells as a clinical biomarker for breast cancer. Also, the study findings should caution doctors against using certain fat cells from obese women in plastic and reconstructive breast surgeries, as these cells can promote recurring breast cancer. Besides, the study suggests that clinicians may need to employ finer-scale imaging techniques in mammograms, especially for obese women, to detect a denser fat cells in the breast.
The findings are published in Science Translational Medicine.