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Postmenopausal breast cancer risk decreases rapidly after starting reg. physical activity


Benefits quickly disappear if regular physical activity stops

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

"Twelve MET-h [metabolic equivalent task-hours] per week corresponds to walking four hours per week or cycling or engaging in other sports two 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."

Postmenopausal women who in the previous four years had undertaken 12 or more MET-h of physical activity each week had a 10 percent decreased risk of invasive breast cancer compared with women who were less active. Women who undertook this level of physical activity between five and nine years earlier but were less active in the four 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.

The total amount of self-reported recreational physical activity was calculated in MET-h per week. The breast cancer risk-reducing effects of 12 or more MET-h per week of recreational physical activity were independent of body mass index, weight gain, waist circumference, and the level of activity from five to nine years earlier.


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. Fournier declares no conflicts of interest.

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To interview Agnès Fournier, please contact her at or +33-1-42-11-51-63. For all other inquiries, please contact Jeremy Moore at or 215-446-7109. Visit our newsroom.

About the American Association for Cancer Research

Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer. AACR membership includes more than 34,000 laboratory, translational, and clinical researchers; population scientists; other health care professionals; and cancer advocates residing in more than 90 countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, biology, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer by annually convening more than 20 conferences and educational workshops, the largest of which is the AACR Annual Meeting with more than 18,000 attendees. In addition, the AACR publishes eight peer-reviewed scientific journals and a magazine for cancer survivors, patients, and their caregivers. The AACR funds meritorious research directly as well as in cooperation with numerous cancer organizations. As the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, the AACR provides expert peer review, grants administration, and scientific oversight of team science and individual grants in cancer research that have the potential for near-term patient benefit. The AACR actively communicates with legislators and policymakers about the value of cancer research and related biomedical science in saving lives from cancer. For more information about the AACR, visit

Jeremy Moore | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: AACR Epidemiology Postmenopausal activity breast invasive invasive breast cancer menopause

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