Keeping Breast Cancer Risks on the Move

Breast cancer risks reduced with any level of exercise

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Exercise. Physical activity. Moving. Along with a clean and colorful diet, there's almost nothing better you can do for your body than move. The fact is we have to keep moving to keep moving, and here's another reason why.

Even mild physical activity can decrease a woman's breast cancer risk. Moving is especially important during the childbearing years and after menopause. Gaining weight, though, will negate these benefits.

"Move every day -- a little or a lot."

Maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active are the two key ways to keep the risk of breast cancer at bay, according to a recent study led by Lauren McCullough, MSPH, of the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told dailyRx, "This is very interesting and suggests that even moderate amount of exercise may be enough."

A number of studies have demonstrated that exercise reduces the risk of new and recurrent breast cancer, but without analyzing the different types of activities or exercise frequency, intensity and timeframes.

McCullough and colleagues looked for the relationship between breast cancer risks and engaging in recreational physical activity at various times throughout a woman's life.

The study involved 1,504 women with breast cancer, including 233 who had non-invasive and 1,273 with invasive breast cancers. The women ranged in age from 20 to 98.

Here's what the study uncovered:

  • Exercising during a woman's childbearing years or after menopause reduced the risk of breast cancer.
  • Women who exercised 10-19 hours a week had a 30 percent reduced risk.
  • All types of exercise performed at all intensity levels offered benefits.
  • Exercise appeared to be particularly helpful in lowering the risk of hormone receptor positive (estrogen and progesterone - ER+ and PR+) breast cancers, which are the most common in American women.

"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," said McCullough.

A personal trainer in New York City, Amie Hoff, CPT, NASM, has seen the results of exercise and has helped women with breast cancer achieve them.

"The benefits of exercise are amazing. Besides building strength, my breast cancer clients also increase their flexibility, develop greater balance, reclaim confidence and develop a stronger cardio level." Hoff told dailyRx in an email.

"Exercise gives them a sense of control over their bodies when they feel they have none," she adds. "The smile on their faces and sense of accomplishment after the session makes exercise one of the best medicines!" 

After dancing with breast cancer, it's exceedingly important to keep on dancing, according to Randy Blackburn, DO, MBA, director of radiation oncology at Onslow Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

There are no boundaries on type and intensity.  "There should be no restrictions that your body does not tell you about. Range of motion exercises need to be life long especially if your have had axillary dissection and /or nodal radiation," Dr. Blackburn told dailyRx.

All is not rosy, though. Along with exercise, it's essential that a woman maintain her weight.

Researchers found that women who gained "a significant amount of weight," especially after menopause had increased risks of the disease.

This finding suggests that packing on the pounds can negate the benefits of exercise in lowering breast cancer risk.

So move your way into a new body. Find something you love to do -- walking, yoga, Zumba, tai chi, running -- whatever makes you happy. Just move and stay out of the food junk drawer, and you'll see and feel and love the changes you experience.

This study was published in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 25, 2012
Last Updated:
September 10, 2012