Skip to content

Cancer Matters


Cancer Matters Home Issues & Perspectives Helping Breast Cancer Survivors Reach Their Weight-Loss Goals

Helping Breast Cancer Survivors Reach Their Weight-Loss Goals

Numerous studies have shown that even a modest amount of weight loss can improve a variety of health-related metrics and quality of life for those who are overweight or obese. Attaining a healthy weight is important for breast cancer survivors, says new Kimmel Cancer Center breast cancer expert Jennifer Sheng, M.D. Studies have shown that losing just 5% body weight can help survivors combat fatigue, improve their body image, and simply feel better after the trying rigors of breast cancer treatment. In addition, research suggests that weight loss can lower the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Toward this end, researchers have studied several interventions aimed at supporting breast cancer survivors in reaching their weight loss goals. One promising approach recently tested at the Kimmel Cancer Center uses a multipronged plan that includes remote but regular coaching, logging calories, tracking, and increasing physical activity. Although many study participants lost a clinically significant amount of weight on this plan, over half didn’t, Sheng says.

That’s why she and her colleagues are testing whether adding a new tool to the mix—in the form of the weight loss drug naltrexone/bupropion (Contrave) —might boost success.

Several weight-loss drugs, including this one, have been FDA approved and shown to be safe and effective in the general population, explains Sheng. However, none have been specifically tested in breast cancer survivors, she says.

Although they aren’t miracle drugs, Sheng adds, weight loss medications can significantly aid diet adherence, making it more likely that those trying to lose weight will succeed. The drug they’re testing in this study, naltrexone/bupropion (Contrave) appears to increase energy expenditure and reduce appetite.

The new study will be open to overweight/obese breast cancer survivors treated at Johns Hopkins who have completed treatment and want to lose weight. Those participating will begin on the same behavioral intervention that’s been tested before. However, if these efforts haven’t been successful after two months, Sheng’s team will prescribe the weight loss drug as an adjunct for the next four months.

Their aim is to help these volunteers lose at least a target of 5% body weight, a number shown to confer health benefits in previous studies. If adding this drug proves successful, the research team plans to run a larger followup study testing weight loss medication against a placebo treatment.

Although recruitment hasn’t started yet for the study, Sheng says that many of her patients are excited about its potential.

“This is something there’s a huge need for. We know that weight loss plans aren’t one size fits all,” she says. “We’re hoping that this study will show us how we can really individualize treatments for each patient. If this drug shows promise, we’ll give breast cancer survivors comfort to use it and the knowledge that it will be truly effective to help them reach their weight loss goals.”