Ladies, put down your remote and walk away from the novela. That’s right, walk – because new research shows that even moderate exercise like a brisk walk or a round of lively salsa dancing may reduce your risk of breast cancer by as much as 30 percent.
A study published today in the online edition of Cancer journal found that physical activity – both mild and intense – by pre and post-menopausal women can significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer. Researchers examined approximately 1,504 women with breast cancer and 1,555 women without breast cancer ages 20 to 90 who participated in the The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project and found that women who exercised were able to successfully reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. Women who were active from the time of their first birth through post-menopause who exercised 10 to 19 hours per week had the biggest pay off, with a 30 percent reduced risk of developing the disease. Exercise at all levels were linked to a reduction in breast cancer.
While Latina women were not included in the population-based study, the link between physical activity throughout a woman’s life and the reduced risk of developing breast cancer is applicable to all ethnic and racial populations, says lead author Lauren McCullough, MSPH, a doctoral candidate at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
“The observation of a reduced risk of breast cancer for women who exercised after menopause is encouraging given the late age of onset for breast cancer, which suggest that even later in life, women can reduce their breast cancer risk,” commented McCullough. “And even though I can’t extrapolate these results for the Latina population, these findings are strong enough with existing literature to prove that women of all races should be engaging in physical activity to reduce their risk of breast cancer.”
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women of all ethnic and racial groups in the United States. Although breast cancer rates are highest for non-Hispanic white women, Latinas follow just behind African-American women with the third highest incidence rate for breast cancer.
According to statistics published by the American Cancer Society, the five –year survival rate for Hispanic/Latina women is currently just 86 percent. That’s a number that Daniel Hughes, PhD, a professor in the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, may be due to the fact that Latinas are often diagnosed at later stages.
“You can’t necessarily convince the matriarch of a Latino family that exercise should be a priority,” says Dr. Hughes, who has just submitted a study examining exercise variables among Mexican American and Puerto Rican breast cancer survivors. And what exactly explains the correlation between exercise, weight and breast cancer risk?
“Fat tissue helps facilitate estrogen production and increase the risk of breast cancer, particularly in post-menopausal women,” explains Dr. Hughes, “So by exercising and maintaining a healthy weight, women can reduce their risk. And while we’re still trying to understand that correlation, we do know that active women are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis, get a stroke or develop diabetes – making the appeal of being active that much greater.”
Jane Mendez, a breast cancer surgeon at Boston Medical Center, agrees that the study is particularly pertinent for Latinas, but adds that ultimately, breast cancer risk cannot be separated from every day activities like maintaining a healthy diet.
“We Latinos typically eat lots of fried foods in conjunction with being sedentary,” says Dr. Mendez. “So we can’t separate the two. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have good eating habits and maintain an active lifestyle.”
And don’t think you have to hop on the treadmill, says Dr. Mendez. Walking the dog, playing with the kids and taking the stairs instead of the elevator are all ways that women can get moving in order to improve their heart function and avoid gaining weight.
“Our culture is changing with younger generations, but the fact remains that Latinas need to be extremely vigilant about being healthy in a number of ways, not only for initial prevention but to prevent cancers from returning and suffering from a reoccurrence,” comments Dr. Mendez.
“And of course, you can be perfectly healthy and still get breast cancer,” she says.
“But at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you did everything in your power to prevent it.”