Conference Coverage

Phone support helps weight loss in patients with breast cancer



A telephone-based weight loss intervention resulted in clinically meaningful weight loss in patients with breast cancer who were overweight and obese.

The finding comes from a case-control study of 3,136 women who had been diagnosed with stage II or III breast cancer. The average body mass index of participants was 34.5 kg/m2, and mean age was 53.4 years.

After 6 months, patients who received telephone coaching as well as health education lost 4.4 kg (9.7 lb), which was 4.8% of their baseline body weight.

In contrast, patients in the control group, who received only health education, gained 0.2 kg (0.3% of their baseline body weight) over the same period.

At the 1-year mark, the telephone weight loss intervention group had maintained the weight they lost at 6 months, whereas the control group gained even more weight and ended with a 0.9% weight gain.

“This equated to a 5.56% weight differential in the two arms demonstrating significant weight loss, which was also clinically significant given that a 3% weight loss is sufficient to improve diabetes and other chronic diseases,” commented lead author Jennifer Ligibel, MD, associate professor of medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

She spoke at a press briefing ahead of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, where the study was presented.

“Our study provides compelling evidence that weight loss interventions can successfully reduce weight in a diverse population of patients with breast cancer,” she said in a statement. At the time of diagnosis, 57% of patients were postmenopausal, 80.3% were White, 12.8% were Black, and 7.3% were Hispanic.

Patients in the intervention group received a health education program plus a 2-year telephone-based weight loss program that focused on lowering calorie intake and increasing physical activity.

Those in the control group only received the health education program that included nontailored diet and exercise materials, a quarterly newsletter, twice-yearly webinars, and a subscription to a health magazine of the participant’s choosing

“This study was delivered completely remotely and it was done so purposefully because we wanted to develop a program that could work for somebody who lived in a rural area in the middle of the country, as well as it could for somebody who lived close to a cancer center,” Dr. Ligibel commented.

“The next step will be to determine whether this weight loss translates into lower rates of cancer recurrence and mortality. If our trial is successful in improving cancer outcomes, it will have far-reaching implications, demonstrating that weight loss should be incorporated into the standard of care for survivors of breast cancer,” she added.

Commenting on the new findings, ASCO expert Elizabeth Anne Comen, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, said: “This study demonstrates that consistent health coaching by telephone – a more accessible, cost-effective approach compared to in-person programs – can significantly help patients with breast cancer lose weight over 1 year and is effective across diverse groups of patients.

“We anxiously await longer-term follow-up to see whether this weight reduction will ultimately improve outcomes for these patients,” she added.

A version of this article first appeared on

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