Key to breast cancer prevention could hang in the balance

PHILADELPHIA In a large epidemiological study of the link between energy balance and breast cancer risk, scientists have provided strong evidence that more exercise together with less weight gain affect considerably the likelihood of contracting breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

Energy balance represents the difference between energy intake, by eating, and energy expenditure, through physical activity.

Women with low levels of physical activity and higher body mass index levels (weight divided by height) were at more than twice the risk of developing breast cancer than women who undertook approximately three metabolic equivalent hours (MET) per day, per year, of exercise, and had lower BMI levels. This level of exercise is equivalent to about 45 minutes of brisk walking or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise per day.

The team of researchers, from Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, both in Nashville, Tenn., together with colleagues at the Shanghai Cancer Institute in China, reported their findings in the June issue of the AACR journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

"Given the substantial level of weight gain in industrialized countries in the last two decades," said lead author Alecia S. Malin, DrPH, CHES, assistant professor of surgery at Meharry and assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt, "there is great interest in understanding the influence of energy balance on cancer risk, and in developing preventive measures that can effectively minimize excess risk. Our study suggests that the promotion of behavior patterns that optimize energy balance weight control and increased physical activity may be a viable option for breast cancer prevention."

She further points out that the anti-cancer effect of lowering caloric intake alone, demonstrated in animals, is not generally considered to be a feasible strategy for cancer prevention in humans.

Contact: Elizabeth Tait
American Association for Cancer Research

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