American Association for Cancer Research

Press Releases: 2008

Exercise and Rest Reduce Cancer Risk


November 17, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Exercise is good for more than just your waistline. A recent study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research's Seventh Annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research suggests that regular physical activity can lower a woman's overall risk of cancer - but only if she gets a good night's sleep. Otherwise, lack of sleep can undermine exercise's cancer prevention benefits.

"Greater participation in physical activity has consistently been associated with reduced risk of cancer incidence at several sites, including breast and colon cancers," said James McClain, Ph.D., cancer prevention fellow at the National Cancer Institute and lead author of the study. "Short duration sleep appears to have opposing effects of physical activity on several key hormonal and metabolic parameters, which is why we looked at how it affected the exercise/cancer risk relationship."

Even though the exact mechanism of how exercise reduces cancer risk isn't known, researchers believe that physical activity's effects on factors including hormone levels, immune function, and body weight may play an important role. The study examined the link between exercise and cancer risk, paying special attention to whether or not getting adequate sleep further affected a women's cancer risk.

Researchers assessed the association between physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE), sleep duration and incidence of overall, breast, and colon cancer in 5,968 women at least 18 years old with no previous cancer diagnoses. The women completed an initial survey in 1998 and were then tracked through the Washington County Cancer Registry and Maryland State Cancer Registry for nearly 10 years.

The results pointed to a sleep-exercise link. "Current findings suggest that sleep duration modifies the relationship between physical activity and all-site cancer risk among young and middle-aged women," he said.

Out of those 5,968 women, 604 experienced a first incidence of cancer, including 186 breast cancer cases. Women in the upper 50 percent of PAEE showed significantly reduced risk of overall cancer and breast cancer. Among women 65 or younger when surveyed and in the upper half of PAEE, sleeping less than seven hours a day increased overall cancer risk, negating much of the protective effects of physical activity on cancer risk for this group.

The next step, says McClain, would be to confirm current findings and investigate potential mechanisms underlying the interaction between sleep and exercise in order to better understand their roles in cancer prevention.

Research is expanding rapidly on the effect of insufficient and prolonged sleep duration on many health outcomes although few studies have examined the association of sleep duration with cancer risk. This novel study examining the interaction of sleep and physical activity suggests another future focus of research on health behaviors and cancer outcomes.

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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes more than 28,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and 80 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes five major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The AACR's most recent publication and its sixth major journal, Cancer Prevention Research, is dedicated exclusively to cancer prevention, from preclinical research to clinical trials. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

Media Contact:
Jeremy Moore
267-646-0557
Jeremy.moore@aacr.org
In Washington, D.C., Nov. 16-18: 301-965-5422