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Physical activity and cancer risk: prevention spread to several types and for survivors as well

Updated guidelines for activity now state that people should aim for 2.5 to 5 hours/week of moderate-intensity activity or 1.25 to 2.5 hours/week of vigorous activity. Moderate-intensity activities are those that get you moving fast enough or strenuously enough to burn off three to six times as much energy per minute as sitting quietly (3 to 6 METs). Vigorous-intensity activities burn more than 6 METs. The evidence supports that there are a number of biologically plausible mechanisms, whereby physical activity can influence cancer risk, and that physical activity is beneficial for the prevention of several types of cancer including breast, colon, endometrial, kidney, bladder, esophageal, and stomach. Minimizing time spent in sedentary behavior may also lower risk of endometrial, colon and lung cancers. Conversely, physical activity is associated with higher risk of melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer. Further, physical activity before and after a cancer diagnosis is also likely to be relevant for improved survival for those diagnosed with breast and colon cancer; with data suggesting that postdiagnosis physical activity provides greater mortality benefits than prediagnosis physical activity. While it’s long been known that physical activity is associated with a lower risk of several cancers, less clear has been the shape of the relationship and whether recommended amounts of physical activity are associated with lower risk.

A pooled analysis of nine prospective studies involving more than 750,000 adults finds that recommended amounts of leisure-time physical activity were linked to a lower risk for seven cancers, with several cancer types having a ‘dose/response’ relationship. The study was led by investigators at the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and appears in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. For the current analysis, investigators pooled data from nine prospective cohorts with self-reported leisure-time physical activity and follow-up for cancer incidence, looking at the relationship between physical activity with incidence of 15 types of cancer. Among 180,885 women, 6,930 invasive breast cancers were identified during follow-up. The researchers found engaging in recommended amounts of activity (7.5 to 15 MET hours/week) was associated with a statistically significant lower risk of seven of the 15 cancer types studied, with the reduction increasing with more MET hours. Physical activity was associated with a lower risk of colon cancer in men (8% for 7.5 MET hours/week; 14% for 15 MET hours/week), female breast cancer (6%-10%), endometrial cancer (10%-18%), kidney cancer (11%-17%), myeloma (14%-19%), liver cancer (18%-27%), and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (11%-18% in women). The dose response was linear in shape for half of the associations and nonlinear for the others.

The analysis had some limitations: even with 750,000 participants, patient numbers were limited for some cancers; participants were primarily white; there was a limited number of cohorts with detailed physical activity measures; and the authors relied on self-reported physical activity, which might have been not accurately estimated. The racial underground might have been on important, since avegargely African-Americans trend for an higher proportion of overweight or krank obesity. The author Alpa Patel, PhD, senior scientific director of Epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society concluded: “These findings provide direct quantitative support for the levels of activity recommended for cancer prevention and provide actionable evidence for ongoing and future cancer prevention efforts. Physical activity guidelines have largely been based on their impact on chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. These data provide strong support that these recommended levels are important to cancer prevention, as well.”

  • edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.

Scientific references

Teras LR, Patel AV et al. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2019 Dec 13.

Patel AV et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Nov; 51(11):2391.

Schmitz KH et al. CA Cancer J Clin. 2019 Nov; 69(6):468-484.

Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci
- Laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia nel 1998 (MD Degree in 1998) - Specialista in Biochimica Clinica nel 2002 (Clinical Biochemistry specialty in 2002) - Dottorato in Neurobiologia nel 2006 (Neurobiology PhD in 2006) - Ha soggiornato negli Stati Uniti, Baltimora (MD) come ricercatore alle dipendenze del National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA/NIH) e poi alla Johns Hopkins University, dal 2004 al 2008. - Dal 2009 si occupa di Medicina personalizzata. - Guardia medica presso strutture private dal 2010 - Detentore di un brevetto sulla preparazione di prodotti gluten-free a partire da regolare farina di frumento immunologicamente neutralizzata (owner of a patent concerning the production of bakery gluten-free products, starting from regular wheat flour). - Responsabile del reparto Ricerca e Sviluppo per la società CoFood s.r.l. (leader of the R&D for the partnership CoFood s.r.l.) - Autore di un libro riguardante la salute e l'alimentazione, con approfondimenti su come questa condizioni tutti i sistemi corporei. - Autore di articoli su informazione medica, salute e benessere sui siti web salutesicilia.com e medicomunicare.it