Fat or fit: The joint effects of physical activity, weight gain, and body size on breast cancer risk




Although physical activity reduces breast cancer risk, issues critical to providing clear public health messages remain to be elucidated. These include the minimum duration and intensity necessary for risk reduction and the optimal time period for occurrence, as well as subgroup effects, particularly with regard to tumor heterogeneity and body size.


This study investigated the relationship between recreational physical activity (RPA) and breast cancer risk, in addition to characterizing the joint effects of activity level, weight gain, and body size, through use of a population-based sample of 1504 cases (N = 233 in situ, N = 1271 invasive) and 1555 controls (aged 20-98 years) from the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project, in Long Island, New York.


A nonlinear dose-response association was observed between breast cancer risk and RPA during the reproductive period and after menopause. Women in the third quartile of activity experienced the greatest benefit with an approximate 30% risk reduction for reproductive (odds ratio = 0.67; 95% confidence interval = 0.48-0.94) and postmenopausal activity (odds ratio = 0.70; 95% confidence interval = 0.52-0.95). Little to no difference was observed regarding intensity of activity or hormone receptor status. Joint assessment of RPA, weight gain, and body size revealed that women with unfavorable energy balance profiles were at increased breast cancer risk. A significant multiplicative interaction was observed between RPA and adult weight gain (P = .033).


RPA at any intensity level during the reproductive and postmenopausal years have the greatest benefit for reducing breast cancer risk. Substantial postmenopausal weight gain may eliminate the benefits of regular activity. Cancer 2012. © 2012 American Cancer Society.