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Breast cancer risk cut by exercise

26th June 2012

New research from the United States has shown that women can cut their risk of developing breast cancer by remaining physically active in mid-life.


Even mild physical activity before and after menopause conferred some protection, although substantial weight gain appeared to cancel out any benefit.

Women who exercised recreationally for 10-19 hours a week had a 30% reduced risk of breast cancer, according to the study, which was published in the journal Cancer.

According to author Lauren McCullough, a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health, the research team set out to examine the effect of recreational physical activity at different points in a women's life on their breast cancer risk.

They included pre- and post-menopausal women in their study, which sought to examine how much exercise conferred a benefit, and how frequently it should occur.

They wanted to investigate whether exercise needed to be intense, and whether or not mild physical activity also had an impact, and whether the protective effects were found among all body types, and for all types of breast cancer.

They studied data on 3,000 women aged 20-98 who were enrolled in the Long Island Breast Cancer study, dating from 1993 and aimed at gathering information on environmental risk factors for breast cancer.

Half of the women in the study had breast cancer, and most of them had invasive breast cancer.

The data showed a reduced risk of breast cancer for women who exercised during their reproductive years or during the menopause, regardless of the intensity of the exercise.

All forms of exercises were linked to a reduced risk of the most common breast cancers in American women, the hormone receptor positive (ER and PR positive) breast cancers.

But if a woman gained a significant among of weight, in particular after menopause, she would be at an increased risk of breast cancer, regardless of whether or not she had exercised.

According to McCullough and her colleagues, exercise may protect against breast cancer by controlling energy balance and obesity, thereby reducing insulin resistance and inflammation.

The researchers concluded that women can reduce their breast cancer risk, even later in life, if they maintained their weight and engaged in moderate activity levels.


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