Expert Commentary: A Healthy Lifestyle May Be the Key to Preventing Cancer

By Isabelle Mercier, PhD
Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences

Published on October 31, 2018

Get Moving For Breast Cancer EventAlthough breast cancer incidence is often thought to be a spontaneous disease, most people are unaware that certain everyday lifestyles might impact on the development of this cancer later on in life and or affect how many years breast cancer survivors will live post-diagnosis.

Epidemiologic studies link moderate exercise following a breast cancer diagnosis to significantly lower cancer mortality rates and reduce incidence of disease recurrence. The most advantageous outcome was observed in patients that performed moderate exercise resulting from a 3-5 hour walk per week at an ordinary pace.

Seeking to share this information more widely, I hosted a workout class for students, faculty, and staff at University of the Sciences in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month where we discussed the importance of exercise and a healthy lifestyle to cancer prevention and survival. For many students, cancer risk is not on their radar, although most know someone impacted by the disease. Students left the class with more motivation behind living a healthy lifestyle and keeping their weight in check.

In fact, research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has shown that women with early breast cancer with a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 27.8, defined as overweight or obese, were 70 percent to 80 percent more likely to experience a recurrence of their cancer of death compared to women who had lower BMIs.

The current hypothesis is that fat cells (associated with an elevated BMI) are a powerhouse that can secrete cancer-promoting hormones and inflammation-causing cytokines which might contribute to tumor progression. Indeed, co-culture studies have confirmed that when breast cancer cells are grown in the presence of fat cells or exposed to their secreted hormones, they proliferate and migrate faster and they exhibit increased epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, which predicts increased aggressiveness.  Exercise could thus help fight breast cancer by keeping these hormone-producing fat cells in check.

Together these scientific evidences have prompted the American Cancer Society and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to encourage cancer survivors get moving at least 150 minutes per week for moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity along with at least 2 strength training sessions to have beneficial outcomes on disease progression.

Exercise has also been linked to reducing the incidence of other types of cancers such as colon, endometrial, esophageal, liver, stomach, and kidney. Individuals that were physically active had a 20 percent decrease in their chances of developing one of these cancers later in life.

Together, these studies suggest that in healthy individuals, pro-active exercise regimens could impact on cancer development later on in life, encouraging to get yourself, your family and friends moving today for a healthier life later on!

Read more about Dr. Mercier's breast cancer research and learn more about the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences

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