Life-long exercise and risk of breast cancer risk.




Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Breast Cancer
Professional Data: Breast Cancer


The incidence of breast cancer has been increasing steadily for decades. In 1972 when President Nixon declared our national war on cancer, a woman's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer was 1 in 20. Today breast cancer rates have escalated to the point where women's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 8. In the year 2002, the American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 203,500 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 39,600 women will die from the disease. This means that approximately every two and a half minutes a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer and that approximately every thirteen minutes, a woman dies from this disease. Breast cancer has become the second largest cause of cancer death in women, after skin cancer, and the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 35 and 54.

The primary sign or symptom associated with breast cancer is finding a breast lump. In a survey of post-mastectomy women, the first sign or symptom of breast cancer was identified by the patient herself 80% of the time. In 19% of cases, the first signs were picked up by health professionals. In 1% of cases, the first clues were identified by lovers. An unexpected finding was that pain was the first symptom noted by 13% of the women.1

A recent study examined the possible position that life-long exercise plays in the risk of breast cancer, before and after menopause. For this investigation, researchers recruited 301 pre-menopausal cases of breast cancer and 439 post-menopausal cases. Each of these groups had a healthy control group. All women involved were between the ages of 40 and 85 years. Physical activity was recorded from the women, from the age of 16 years and up. The authors found that strenuous exercise was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, and this was seen more in postmenopausal women than in premenopausal women. The authors concluded that, “effects appear strongest for those active at least 20 yr prior and among postmenopausal women who were consistently active throughout their lifetime.”2


1. Bullough B. Discovery of the first signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Nurse Pract. Nov1980;5(6):31-2,47.
2. Dorn J, et al. Lifetime Physical Activity and Breast Cancer Risk in Pre- and Postmenopausal Women. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2003; 35(2):278-285.