Women: Walk Away From Cancer
Daily Physical Activity, Housework Help Prevent Cancer, Improve Survival
WebMD News Archive
March 29, 2004 -- Getting regular physical activity, and starting in teen
years, helps women prevent cancer. After a breast cancer diagnosis, exercise
can even improve survival.
Just 30 minutes of daily walking or doing household chores -- that's all you
need, say two researchers presenting new findings at the American Association
for Cancer Research annual meeting in Orlando.
Best to Start in Teen Years
Starting in teen years, and sticking with it into adulthood, provides the
greatest cancer prevention benefit, reports lead researcher Charles E. Matthews
with Vanderbilt University.
Matthews studied 832 women living in Shanghai who had endometrial cancer
(cancer of the lining of the uterus), all between ages 30 and 69. The women
provided information on exercise when they were adolescents and in
- Women who exercised in teen years and adulthood were 30% to 40% less
likely to develop endometrial cancer compared with women who got no exercise
during these periods.
- Women who did the greatest amounts of common daily household chores during
both periods of life reduced their risk by 30%.
- Women who exercised as kids, then quit, got no significant prevention
- Those who began exercising in adulthood got about a 20% increased
Participating in higher levels of physical activities appeared to lower the
effect of weight as a risk factor for endometrial cancer. Overweight women are
at higher risk for endometrial cancer because their higher body fat can lead to
higher production of estrogen.
Fewer Breast Cancer Deaths
The second study showed that women who exercise after a breast cancer
diagnosis live longer.
That study of 2,296 women, all diagnosed with various stages of breast
cancer, were followed for 16 years. The researchers showed that those who got
regular physical activity beginning two years after a diagnosis lived longer,
reports Michelle D. Holmes, a researcher with Harvard University.
"When a woman faces a diagnosis of breast cancer, she wants to know,
'What can I do to help myself,'" says Holmes. "We saw survival benefit
for those who walked as little as one to three hours a week."
Women who engaged in even modest walking on a weekly basis greatly increased
- One to three hours: 19%
- Three to five hours: 54%
- Five to eight hours: 42%
- 24 or more hours: 29%
Overweight women had the most pronounced benefit, she says. The women who
exercised more but got less survival benefit may have had more advanced cancer.
They also may be women who, on hearing the diagnosis, decided to turn unhealthy
lifestyles around -- like quitting smoking.
"We know that physical activity has been shown to improve quality of
life," says Holmes. "But we conclude that physical activity can help
them live longer."