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"That needs to be interpreted cautiously because it's the first time that anyone's examined whether the relationship of smoking with breast cancer is different by level of obesity," said Susan Gapstur, vice president of epidemiology at the American Cancer Society. "Other studies would need to confirm this relationship."
Researchers had no explanation for the results. Many breast cancers are fueled by estrogen, and fat tissue makes that hormone. So it could be that obesity is contributing so much risk already that a smaller risk from smoking is less apparent in these women.
But there's no way to tell that from this research. "We cannot separate the effect of smoking from the effect of obesity," Luo said.
It also could be that obese women died of other smoking-related problems such as heart disease before they even had a chance to develop breast cancer. In that case, they would not have even been counted in a study like this, she said.
The frustrating bottom line: More research is needed.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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