Increased exercise may lower risk of breast cancer

By Kerry Leotowicz

New research suggests that increased exercise may not only increase the quality of a person’s life but also reduce the chance of cancer.

Alberta Health Services cancer epidemiologist and adjunct professor at the University of Calgary’s faculty of medicine Dr. Christine Friedenreich and University of Alberta professor Dr. Kerry Courneya are setting out with 330 women to see if exercise can lower the risk of breast cancer.

The BETA trial is a continuation of the results of the ALPHA trial conducted by Friedenreich and Courneya and published in 2006. The ALPHA trial found that the closer participants followed an exercise program, the more the risk for breast cancer decreased.

Now Courneya and Friedenreich are looking at the current standards of physical activity in Canada to see if the standard should be reevaluated.

Some international studies are recommending more exercise than the current standard of 30 minutes, five days a week. The new recommendations cite 60 minutes of exercise a day seven days a week.

The BETA trial is testing both 150 minutes and 300 minutes of aerobic exercise per week in attempts to come up with clear guidelines of how much exercise is needed to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

“Is there some kind threshold where we are getting the biggest impact?” asked Friedenreich. “Is there some benefit at 150? Does it plateau out or is there even more benefit at 300 minutes a week?”

Dr. Christine Friedenreich’s research examines the role physical activity has on cancer prevention, rehabilitation and survival. Along with the ALPHA and BETA trials, she has an ongoing analysis of the metabolic syndrome in an uterine cancer case-control study, and two cohort studies of physical activity in prostate and uterine cancer survival.

Friedenreich is a co-investigator with the Challenge Trial, the first study of its kind to look at the effects of exercise on the survival of colon cancer patients.

“[This is] what I am really passionate about, understanding how exercise is related to the risk of developing cancer and how we can use exercise to help rehabilitate [patients] after their cancer and deal with the coping of their treatment and then also improve their survival and quality of life after cancer,” said Friedenreich.

A media campaign held on Oct. 20 was a huge success, said Friedenreich. Almost 2,000 volunteers have stepped forward to take part in the BETA Trial as a result of the campaign.

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