Doc Celebrates Dual Victories: Breast Cancer and Obesity

October 15, 2013

Dr. Jeannine Cobb before and after her 100-pound weight loss.

INDEPENDENCE, Kan. - For Dr. Jeannine Cobb, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has even more significance this year – she’s five years cancer free. But, she won’t be celebrating with a survivor “birthday” cake because she’s also celebrating six years of being 100 pounds lighter.

“I’ve worked too hard for too long to blow it now on sweet treats,” said Mercy Clinic’s Dr. Cobb, a certified obesity medicine physician, one of only some 600 doctors with this special certification across the country.  

Dr. Cobb says one of these victories may not have been possible without the other.

Now in her sixth year of maintenance after the life-changing weight loss experience, Dr. Cobb is an inspirational role model and passionate advocate for those who struggle with obesity. In fact, she’s built her entire practice around helping people achieve healthier lifestyles and deal with the multiple complications that often accompany being overweight –breast cancer and other cancers included.

“Significant research shows carrying a high percentage of body fat contributes to the likelihood of developing other serious health problems, including cancer,” Dr. Cobb explained. “Obesity is truly a ‘chronic inflammatory disease.’ Carrying extra fat cells in our bodies does only bad things – from increasing our blood pressure to affecting our mood to contributing to the growth of cancer.”

Dr. Cobb is convinced that’s how it happened in her own body. Originally trained as an obstetrician/gynecologist, Dr. Cobb practiced for 16 years in that field in Wichita, Kan., delivering more than 5,000 babies, performing hundreds of gynecological procedures and simultaneously working as an associate professor teaching medical residents.

“I was sometimes in the hospital at 2 a.m. waiting on a baby,” said Dr. Cobb, who now practices in Independence, Kan., where she leads the Mercy Clinic Weight Management program. “I would eat from the vending machines or grab a junk food snack from the convenience store across the street. It became a habit, a way of life for me, and I found myself seriously overweight and began to experience other health problems as well.”

After coaxing from her colleagues and her family, Dr. Cobb began a personal weight loss journey including extensive professional training in the field of obesity medicine. But about a year and 80 pounds into the weight loss effort, she received a startling breast cancer diagnosis.

“I tell people I gave it (breast cancer) to myself,” she said, noting some significant correlations between obesity and breast cancer. “Studies show mammograms are less accurate in obese women, so the cancer might not have been discovered if I hadn’t lost the weight.”

Dr. Cobb cited the following facts with regard to obesity and breast cancer:

  • Weight gain of more than 20 pounds from age 18 to mid-life doubles the risk for breast cancer.
  • Advanced breast cancer is diagnosed more frequently in obese women (those with a BMI – body mass index – greater than 30).
  • Obesity is associated with a twofold increase in breast cancer risk in post-menopausal women.
  • There is increased treatment failure after mastectomy and chemotherapy in obese women.
  • A smaller percentage of overweight and obese women actually get routine screening mammograms.

Dr. Cobb explained fat cells and fatty tissue store a type of estrogen called “estrone,” which is directly linked to the development of cancer cells. Regular exercise and maintaining a lower body weight is shown to decrease estrone levels, thus lowering the risk of recurrence and death from breast cancer.

“These two subjects – obesity and breast cancer – have become very personal to me, so I very much want to share my information and experiences with my patients and anyone who will listen. I truly believe my weight loss, and now maintaining with healthy eating and exercise, may have saved my life.”

Mercy is the sixth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 32 hospitals, 300 outpatient facilities, 39,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.