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Exercise & Fitness for Senior Citizens

Breast Cancer Risk Reduced by Mild Physical Activity if Weight Maintained

Reduced risk for older women who exercise after menopause is particularly encouraging

June 25, 2012 - Physical activity either mild or intense, and before or after menopause may reduce breast cancer risk, but substantial weight gain may negate these benefits, according to a new analysis by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers.

Women in this study who exercised either during their reproductive or postmenopausal years had a reduced risk of developing breast cancer. Women who exercised 10 to 19 hours per week experienced the greatest benefit with an approximate 30 percent reduced risk.

Risk reductions were observed at all levels of intensity, and exercise seemed to reduce the risk of hormone receptor positive breast cancers, the most commonly diagnosed tumor type among American women.

 

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The findings indicate that women can reduce their breast cancer risk by exercising and maintaining their weight, according to the report published early online in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

While studies have shown that physical activity reduces breast cancer risk, many questions have remained, according to the researchers. For example, how often, how long and how intense does physical activity have to be to provide benefits?

Also, do women with all body types experience a reduced risk when they exercise, and does exercise reduce the risk of all types of breast cancer?

To investigate, Lauren McCullough, a doctoral candidate at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and her colleagues looked for a link between recreational physical activity, done at different time points in life, and the risk of developing breast cancer.

The study included 1,504 women with breast cancer (233 noninvasive and 1,271 invasive) and 1,555 women without breast cancer who were 20 to 98 years old and were part of the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project, an investigation of possible environmental causes of breast cancer.

"The observation of a reduced risk of breast cancer for women who engaged in exercise after menopause is particularly encouraging given the late age of onset for breast cancer," McCullough said.

When the researchers looked at the joint effects of physical activity, weight gain and body size, they found that even active women who gained a significant amount of weight particularly after menopause had an increased risk of developing breast cancer, indicating that weight gain can eliminate the beneficial effects of exercise on breast cancer risk.

Notes:

Co-authors of "Fat or Fit: The Joint Effects of PA, Weight Gain and Body Size on Breast Cancer Risk" from UNC include Patrick T. Bradshaw, Ph.D., research assistant professor of nutrition, and Marilie D. Gammon, Ph.D., epidemiology professor, both from the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Rebecca J. Cleveland, Ph.D., from the School of Medicine.

Other authors are Sybil M. Eng, Ph.D., department of epidemiology, Columbia University; Susan L. Teitelbaum, Ph.D., department of community medicine and prevention, Mount Sinai School of Medicine; and Alfred I. Neugut, M.D., Ph.D., department of medicine, Columbia University.

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