Q+A: What does current research say about exercising to prevent breast cancer?

What does current research say about exercising to prevent breast cancer?



People who are overweight or obese tend to have poorer cancer outcomes than people of lower weight. Scientists suspect the cancer link might be associated with inflammation in body fat tissues. Research suggests that an increased release of white blood cells that trigger inflammation—known as pro-inflammatory macrophages—could lead to the development, progression or recurrence of breast cancer in women. In healthy people, exercise and weight loss decrease fat-tissue inflammation, potentially decreasing the pro-inflammatory response.

Researchers recruited 20 obese women who had completed radiation and/or chemotherapy after receiving a stage I–III breast cancer diagnosis. One half took part in a 16-week aerobic and resistance training exercise intervention; the other half served as the control group. The scientists progressed the exercise program throughout the study, and participants were asked to maintain their dietary intake.

The researchers noted that the women who exercised saw clinically significant reductions in body weight, percentage of body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and pro-inflammatory macrophage and hormone release compared with baseline measurements and the control group. This small pilot study yielded promising evidence that exercising more might reduce pro-inflammatory macrophage release, even when diet is unaltered, in female breast cancer survivors.

REFERENCE: Dieli-Conwright, C.M., et al. 2018. Adipose tissue inflammation in breast cancer survivors: Effects of a 16-week combined aerobic and resistance exercise training intervention. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 168 (1), 147–57.

Meet our experts

AFM_Author_Nunez TONY P. NUÑEZ, PHD, is an assistant professor in exercise science at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He is an active researcher and presenter in the exercise physiology and fitness field.

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