Skip to content

    Breast Cancer Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Fight Fat, Fight Cancer

    Regular exercise helps keep breast cancer at bay.

    WebMD Feature

    March 13, 2000 (Cambridge, Mass.) -- Becky Boock has always been a devoted athlete, reveling in the thrill of the race. A former competitive runner and swimmer, the 19-year-old Canadian races in at least three triathlons each summer. Now she has an additional reason to keep moving: Boock recently lost her mother to breast cancer.

    "Exercise is both an outlet and a way of prevention for me," she says. "I can only hope my healthy lifestyle will help me stay safe." Boock isn't alone in this hope.

    Even women who haven't lost a relative to breast cancer often fear this disease most. And until recently, experts haven't been able to offer solid evidence to those wondering whether lifestyle factors such as exercise might reduce their risk.

    But now that's changing. After years of conflicting findings, a new consensus is emerging. It's very good news for women who already work out, as well as for anyone who's looking for a new reason to get motivated: Regular exercise, it seems, really can cut a woman's chances of getting breast cancer.

    The latest study, published in the January 19 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that active women were about 30% less likely to get the disease. Last October, Harvard University researchers published findings from the large-scale Nurses' Health Study showing that regular exercisers cut their risk by 20%. "If you take all the data on balance, there is a moderate reduction of risk," says Beverly Rockhill, Ph.D., lead author of the Harvard study.

    Scientific Tomato-Throwing

    The data haven't always pointed in this direction. Indeed, in an earlier analysis of Nurses' Study data, Rockhill and her colleagues were unable to show that exercise offered any shield. "We found no protective effect whatsoever," Rockhill said at the time. Other researchers cited in a review paper published in the January 21, 1998 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that exercise reduced risk before -- but not after -- menopause. Still others cited in that paper found precisely the opposite. And at least one study reviewed there showed that exercise raised risk.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    Breast Cancer Overview
    From mammograms to living after treatment.
    Dealing with breast cancer
    Get answers to your questions.
     
    woman having mammogram
    The 3 latest tips to know.
    woman undergoing breast cancer test
    Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
     
    Resolved To Quit Smoking
    VIDEO
    Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
    Article
     
    Woman getting mammogram
    Article
    Screening Tests for Women
    Article
     
    serious woman
    Article
    Pink badge on woman chest to support breat cancer
    QUIZ
     
    what is your cancer risk
    Article
    breast cancer survivors
    Article