Prevention is the name of the game these days. From everything from skin care (anti-aging anyone?) to vitamins to all sorts of workout regimens everyone is trying to prevent something. We try to prevent weight gain, wrinkles, osteoporosis, and even cancer. Especially for women, preventing breast cancer and maintaining breast health is a concern. I mean, there are tons of anti-aging face creams but there isn’t a whole lot of talk about breast cancer prevention. However, there are studies that have been published in both the American Journal of Epidemiology and The New England Journal of Medicine that suggest a link between physical activity and the risk of breast cancer.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine study, the relative risk of breast cancer went down among women whose jobs required them to be physically active. They also saw a 52% reduction in women whose jobs required heavy manual labor. But does this mean in order to reduce the risk of breast cancer you need to get a new job that requires lots of lifting? Absolutely not. The New England Journal of Medicine study also found a significant decrease in breast cancer risk with an increase in leisure time activity. In addition, the American Journal of Epidemiology found that several other articles indicated a dose response relationship between physical activity and the reduction of the risk of breast cancer. That means that as the amount and intensity of physical activity increases, the risk of breast cancer decreases. The American Journal of Epidemiology found that their results of reduced risk for all types of activity were consistent with those of other studies.
So, what does all this mean for you? First, no one is suggesting that there is any way to completely eliminate the risk of breast cancer. However, even a change from a sedentary lifestyle to moderate physical activity can have some impact on your risk. However, the change is even more evident with a regularly active lifestyle. Breast cancer can affect the life of you and your family in a very profound way, and I’m sure we would all avoid it if possible. Exercise is a relatively easy way to try and decrease that risk.
Thune et al. (1997). Physical activity and the risk of breast cancer. New England Journal of Medicine, 336, 1269-1275.
Matthews CE, Shu XO, Jin F, Dai Q, Hebert JR, Ruan ZX, et al. Lifetime physical activity and breast cancer risk in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Study. Br J Cancer 2001;84(7):994-1001.