Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk Decreases Rapidly After Starting Regular Physical Activity


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Agnès Fournier, PhD

Postmenopausal women who in the past 4 years had undertaken regular physical activity equivalent to at least 4 hours of walking per week had a lower risk for invasive breast cancer compared with women who exercised less during those 4 years, according to data published recently in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.1 

“Twelve MET-h [metabolic equivalent task-hours] per week corresponds to walking 4 hours per week or cycling or engaging in other sports 2 hours per week, and it is consistent with the World Cancer Research Fund recommendations of walking at least 30 minutes daily,” said Agnès Fournier, PhD, a Researcher in the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at the Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif, France. “So, our study shows that it is not necessary to engage in vigorous or very frequent activities; even walking 30 minutes per day is beneficial.”

Rapid Impact on Risk

Postmenopausal women who in the previous 4 years had undertaken 12 or more MET-h of physical activity each week had a 10% decreased risk of invasive breast cancer compared with women who were less active. Women who undertook this level of physical activity between 5 and 9 years earlier but were less active in the 4 years prior to the final data collection did not have a decreased risk for invasive breast cancer.

“Physical activity is thought to decrease a woman’s risk for breast cancer after menopause,” said Fournier. “However, it was not clear how rapidly this association is observed after regular physical activity is begun or for how long it lasts after regular exercise stops.

“Our study answers these questions,” Fournier continued. “We found that recreational physical activity, even of modest intensity, seemed to have a rapid impact on breast cancer risk. However, the decreased breast cancer risk we found associated with physical activity was attenuated when activity stopped. As a result, postmenopausal women who exercise should be encouraged to continue and those who do not exercise should consider starting because their risk of breast cancer may decrease rapidly.”

Fournier and colleagues analyzed data obtained from biennial questionnaires completed by 59,308 postmenopausal women who were enrolled in E3N, the French component of the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. The mean duration of follow-up was 8.5 years, during which time, 2,155 of the women were diagnosed with a first primary invasive breast cancer. ■

Disclosure: Dr. Fournier reported no potential conflicts of interest. This study was supported by funds from Institut National du Cancer, the Fondation de France, and the Institut de Recherche en Santé Publique. The E3N cohort is financially supported by the Institut National du Cancer, the Mutuelle Générale de l’Education Nationale, the Institut de Cancérologie Gustave Roussy, and the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale.

Reference

1. Fournier A, et al: Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers. August 11, 2014 (early release online).

 



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