Can Exercise Reduce Breast Cancer Risk?

We know you’ve heard about the many benefits of exercise to your overall physical and cardiovascular health. But do you know the relationship between exercise and your immune system, and its’ role in minimizing risk of getting certain types of cancer? Today we’ll explore how exercise can help minimize your breast cancer risk.

Exercise increases the body’s ability to provide adequate oxygen to your cells, which is essential for cell metabolism.  Increased oxygenation boosts the immune system, elevates  mood, and helps control obesity.  Evidence continues to mount that exercise later in life may become a factor for reducing breast cancer incidence.

A recent study recruited women with breast cancer from 31 hospitals in or near New York City. These cases were aged from 20 to 98 years old, and were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1996 and 1997. The controls were women who had never been diagnosed with breast cancer, and were matched to cases based on age. This is important, as age is a significant risk factor for breast cancer. The study included 1,508 cases and 1,556 controls to collect data for impact of exercise on breast cancer occurrence.

Study Outcomes:

When adjusting for age, the researchers found that:

  • Regular physical activity during adolescence was not associated with a difference in risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Women who reported engaging in 10 to 19 hours of physical activity during their reproductive (pre-menopausal) years had a 33% reduction in the odds of developing breast cancer after menopause, compared with women who reported no regular activity during these years (odds ratio 0.67, 95% confidence interval 0.48 to 0.94). No significant differences were seen at other activity levels.
  • Women who reported engaging in approximately 9 to 17 hours of physical activity during post-menopausal years had a 30% reduction in the odds of developing breast cancer after the menopause, compared with women who reported no regular physical activity during these years (odds ratio 0.70, 95% confidence interval 0.52 to 0.95).

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers concluded that women can “reduce their breast cancer risk later in life by maintaining their weight and engaging in moderate amounts of physical activity”.

Back to the Basics

With all the vast number of treatments for breast cancer, most having numerous debilitating side effects, it may be time that we go back to the basics of good health and include exercise as a treatment recommendation to reduce breast cancer incidence. Exercise in moderation, based on the individual’s health, comes with many benefits and usually has no cost associated, unless one decides to join a gym or exercise class. Exercise may be the best value in reducing breast cancer incidence.  One thing is certain: Participating in regular exercise later in life will increase one’s overall health, improve mood, and control obesity.

Do you, as a Nurse Navigator, recommend exercise for your breast cancer patients? Does your Breast Center offer any programs to help facilitate patients’ exercise during treatment?

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