New Zealand Listener

Fight fat Fight cancer

Christchurch office manager Teresa Clifton’s weekly schedule would make most retirees crave a lie-down. At 69, she still works 25 hours a week, she walks 3km daily (and 5km on weekends) and she swims twice weekly (60 lengths in an hour). She has Zumba class on Monday nights, tennis on Thursday afternoons and kayaking at weekends, weather permitting. Then, she often climbs on the exercise bike or rowing machine she keeps at home.

She’s always understood the importance of keeping active and sticking to a healthy weight as ways of reducing her risk of disease, so her diagnosis of breast cancer in February 2018, just four months after her older sister had received the same news, was a big shock.

But Clifton’s active lifestyle is helping scientists better understand the complex role and interaction of weight, exercise and inflammation. She’s one of 12 breast cancer patients – half of whom were in the control group of women with low or normal weight, the other half obese – who took part in a pilot study that researchers hope will help them to tease apart those links and their role in cancer.

When doctors asked if she’d take part in the trial, which would measure her activity together with inflammatory and other markers in the blood over the six-month course of her chemotherapy, she jumped at the opportunity. “One in eight women get breast cancer, so I said I would help in any way I could.”

It’s been recognised for many years that being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many cancers. “There is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk for cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, liver, colo-rectum, breast (post-menopause), endometrium and prostate,” says Shayne Nahu, the Cancer Society’s advocacy and well-being manager.

Being overweight is associated with outcomes that are

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