Breast cancer can be fought off with exercise

Breast cancer can be fought off with exercise

We all know that exercise if good for your health, but before today we really didn’t know just how much it could prevent problems later down the line, such as breast cancer.

Middle aged women who regularly partake in some form of exercise each day are significantly reducing their chances of getting cancer.

Just 30 minutes of exercise a day, such as a game of squash or a spinning class reduces the risk of cancer by a fifth.

Scientists have found that obese women are 50% more likely to get cancer than those who have a healthy BMI.

Those women who did three hours of exercise per week were 21% less likely to get breast cancer. 2

Currently 1 in 8 women get breast cancer, which equates to 50,500 a year, however this new evidence is positive in showing that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the probability of a woman being affected.

Researchers at Oxford University have spent three years monitoring 126,000 women going through menopause and noted if they got the disease or not. They filled in questionnaires about their exercise levels, weight, diet, drinking and smoking.

Those who exercised regularly did so vigorously- no gentle activities like cycling, walking or jogging.

Scientists believe that being obese increases the risk of cancer- most likely due to the fat cells containing oestrogen which encourage the growth of tumours.

Fewer than half of women meet the NHS’s recommended exercise guidelines per week, which is two and a half hours.

Professor Tim Key, a Cancer Research UK scientist from the cancer epidemiology unit at Oxford University, said: ‘What’s really interesting about this study is that [reduction in breast cancer risk] does not appear to be solely due to the most active women being slimmer, suggesting that there may be some more direct benefits of exercise for women of all sizes. 

'We don’t yet know exactly how physical activity reduces risk ... but some small studies suggest that it could be linked to the impact on hormone levels in the body.’

He summarised that more research is still required to find the link between women’s hormone levels and the prevention of cancer.

Women who have been slim for most or all of their adult life have benefited from preventing cancer for the majority of their lives.  

Professor Key said that even if a woman has been overweight for most of her life, by increasing exercise levels in middle age can still have a positive outcome.

But Alison Cox, head of cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK, said this study ‘confirms that the benefits of staying active go beyond just burning calories’.

Source: Mail Online 

Dr Anne Rigg, Consultant Medical Oncologist at London Bridge Hospital responds to the findings:

How can regular exercise play a part in the prevention of breast cancer?

"There is no doubt the lifestyle of the modern woman has changed dramatically since the time of our grandmothers. Domestic appliances have made housework less physically strenuous and less time-consuming. Access to cars and good public transport means that there is less need to walk than for previous generations. There is also the fact that employment opportunities have improved significantly for women in the last century so more women than ever are working. Whilst all of these factors have helped women they have come at a cost. The reality is that most British women are far less physically active than they used to be.

"There has been a steady rise in the incidence of breast cancer in the UK (the number of women diagnosed with the condition each year) and this correlates with the rise in body weight. No one can yet claim to fully understand why an individual woman develops breast cancer but there is plenty of evidence already that being overweight is a significant risk factor for breast cancer. Therefore, keeping body weight within normal limits is beneficial. The most important way to do this is through regular exercise. As well as reducing the risk of breast and other cancers, it is also beneficial for the heart and prevents osteoporosis. I advise my patients once they have completed treatment for breast cancer to keep their weight in check through regular exercise and healthy eating. 

What is the link between excess body fats and breast cancer?

"Two-thirds of breast cancers occurring in British women are sensitive to the female hormone oestrogen (termed oestrogen-receptor positive cancer). These breast cancer cells are stimulated by oestrogen and this promotes their growth. Oestrogen is produced by the ovaries if a woman is pre-menopausal but also by adipose tissue (fat). Hence, the more body fat a woman has the more oestrogen she will be producing. This accounts for the link between being overweight and the increased risk of breast cancer." 

What steps can people can take to reduce their risk of breast cancer?

"Women should be aware of a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Having a first degree relative (mother, sister) who has had breast or ovarian cancer can lead to an increased risk for the future and these women should start having screening mammograms at 40 rather than 47-50 as for the rest of the population.

"Maintaining weight within normal limits through exercise and healthy eating is a sensible approach especially if there is already a family history. Avoiding or limiting alcohol intake is also advocated. Unfortunately, young women are drinking far more alcohol than previous generations and there is concern this is likely to be reflected in a further rise in breast cancer in the future for this age group.

"Oral contraception and hormonal replacement therapy have revolutionised women’s lives for the better. However, the exposure to these drugs has led some women to have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Women should talk to their GP when making decisions to use these treatments and be aware of the potential risks as well as the benefits."

If there are any type of exercise that is more beneficial in reducing your cancer risk?

"In terms of breast cancer prevention, the predominant reason for recommending exercise is to keep weight within normal limits (body mass index 20-25). Therefore, the most useful exercise is aerobic exercise such as cycling, swimming and running/jogging which will increase the heart rate and help to burn fat. The exercise should be at an intensity that causes the woman to perspire and breathe faster. These signs indicate that the heart rate is elevated. The other key factor is that exercise should take place several times a week so maintaining the routine is just as important as the intensity. The current NHS recommendations for women are a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise 5 times per week." 

Nicola Roche, Consultant Breast Surgeon at The Lister Hospital, London, comments in this interview.   

What is the impact of lifestyle factors on the risk of developing the disease? Is there a link between excess body fats, exercise, diet, alcohol and smoking and risk of breast cancer?

"The biggest risk for breast cancer is age. The older women are the greater the risk. In addition, obesity, especially after the menopause, as well as alcohol, are important risk factors.

"Women who do not have children or who have children at an older age are also at increased risk. Breast feeding is protective against developing breast cancer. Also taking an oral contraceptive and HRT slightly increase breast cancer risk.” 

Are there any myths around risk factors for breast cancer?

“Common myths around breast cancer are that deodorants and antiperspirants cause breast cancer. Also, many people think that trauma or injury to the breast causes breast cancer, but this is not accurate.” 

What steps can people take to reduce their risk of breast cancer?

“A healthy varied diet, with lots of fruit and vegetables is important in reducing the risk of breast cancer. Alcohol within recommended guidelines and regular exercise is also important in reducing the risk. If it's practical for you, also avoid contraception and HRT. Also breast feed if you can. In order to catch cancer at an early stage be breast aware, and attend for breast screening when invited.”


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