When we think of the health consequences of being overweight, most of us make think diabetes. Heart disease. Joint pain.

But a growing body of research suggests we might be at higher risk of cancer, too.

Dr. Patricia Limpert, a breast surgeon at the Breast Care Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in Missouri, wrote in a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch story that experts have long recognized a link between obesity and an increased risk of breast cancer in women after menopause. The connection, they believe, comes from the relationship between body fat and estrogen production. Increased estrogen levels can influence the growth of tumors in the breast.

But researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research have now found that postmenopausal women who lose even a little weight (5 percent or more) through diet and exercise can decrease their risk of estrogen-sensitive breast cancers by as much as 50 percent.

It’s an important message for overweight Americans, a third of whom are now obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Losing weight, Limpert said, takes a commitment and focus that can be tough at times.

“We know stressors in our lives contribute to weight gain, so an effort to relieve unneeded worries or managing other issues can be a great start,” she said. “Women can also start by setting realistic goals, following a low-calorie diet and getting the recommended 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise most days of the week.”

With so much at stake, it seems worth the effort.