Inflammation, Obesity, and Breast Cancer

Does obesity cause chronic inflammation?” Childhood Obesity News is looking at the idea, but the picture is far from clear. Science is still exploring the relationship between the two. It is pretty clear that obesity is connected with low-grade chronic inflammation, but then the relationships become very complicated, because obesity is also associated with insulin resistance, which is also linked to pre-diabetes and the metabolic syndrome, and to various cancers.

A 2017 report said,

Abdominal obesity is due to an increased oxidative stress and decreased nitric oxide associated with endothelial dysfunction. Perivascular adipose tissue–induced proinflammatory cytokines in obese individuals target the vasculature, which is a source of low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress.

Macrophages accumulated in the fat tissue of obese individuals have significance in the development of obesity-related inflammation. The number of macrophages in the fat tissue is strongly related to the person’s weight, BMI, and total body fat.

The overweight group showed a higher lymphocyte count, thereby confirming the positive correlation of lymphocyte count with BMI.

So while some things are known, research in the field is mostly a gigantic tangled mess, while the likelihood of tracing cause and effect is a tiny beckoning light far off in the distance. Of course, a lot of is paid for by pharmaceutical companies. What they need is a magic pill that will cancel out the effects of sugars and fats, perhaps by blocking the effects of inflammatory proteins.

A very special and especially concerning case is Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). While these invasive ductal carcinomas are rare (although becoming more common), IBC it makes up for its scarcity with its extreme aggressiveness. It starts in the lining of a milk duct when an abnormal, mutated cell multiplies rapidly, causing blockage in the lymphatic vessels — no one is yet sure why — which in turn causes the characteristic redness, swelling, and dimpled skin.

By the time IBC is diagnosed, it has reached stage III or stage IV, and progresses quickly from there. What makes it so dreaded is that a mammogram usually does not spot it, and neither does self-examination, because of the absence of a single, palpable lump.

The story gets even more scary:

Inflammatory breast tumors are frequently hormone receptor negative, which means that hormone therapies, such as tamoxifen, that interfere with the growth of cancer cells fueled by estrogen may not be effective against these tumors.

A 2016 study looked at obesity and IBC with an eye to identifying their connective relationship, and found “a significant association.” According to the Mayo Clinic, the main risk factors are being female, being black, and being obese. Besides developing new pharmaceuticals, this is what the research is all about. While a person can’t help being female or black, a main goal is to reduce risk by identifying modifiable behavior patterns, like obesity and smoking.

A very recent University of Texas study (that credits 16 team members) aimed to make sense out of their epidemiological data. The study involved the histories of 248 newly diagnosed IBC patients, taking into account 160 factors, “including sociodemographics, anthropometrics, tobacco and alcohol consumption, reproductive variables, and family history data.”

The researchers already knew about the risk potential connected with age, ethnicity, and elevated BMI. They were looking for the less obvious distinctions:

We identified epidemiological profiles that were associated with distinct behavioral patterns among ethnic groups with regard to reproductive history, breastfeeding, smoking, and obesity… 83% of African Americans had class III obesity, and African American ethnicity was more frequently associated with triple-negative IBC.

Again, although nearly 80% of these patients had dutifully had mammograms, 84% of them discovered the problem themselves through the previously described symptoms of swelling, redness, and “orange peel” textured skin.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Does obesity cause chronic inflammation? The association between complete blood parameters with body mass index and fasting glucose,”, Jan-Feb 2017
Source: “Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC),”
Source: “Obesity and Inflammatory Breast Cancer,”, 2016
Source: “Inflammatory Breast Cancer,”
Source: “Distinct epidemiological profiles associated with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC): A comprehensive analysis of the IBC registry at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center,”, 09/24/18
Photo credit: Army Medicine on Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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