Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Exercise may protect girls from future breast cancer

WASHINGTON - Get your daughters off the couch: New research shows exercise during the teen years — starting as young as age 12 — can help protect girls from breast cancer when they're grown. Middle-aged women have long been advised to get active to lower their risk of breast cancer after menopause.

I love the assumption here that girls have their asses glued to the couch, in spite of all the articles telling us that teen girls are obsessed with how much they eat, are restricting/purging, and are over-exercising to be thin.
Researchers tracked nearly 65,000 nurses ages 24 to 42 who enrolled in a major health study. They answered detailed questionnaires about their physical activity dating back to age 12. Within six yearsof enrolling, 550 were diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause. A quarter of all breast cancer is diagnosed at these younger ages, when it's typically more aggressive.

Now I don't know about the rest of you, but at the age of 24, I doubt if I could accurately remember back 12 years to be able to tell anyone how much of what kind of exercise I did for those intervening years, let alone being able to do it at the age of 42. Hell, I'm lucky if I can remember what I had for dinner two days ago, let alone how much of what kind of exercise I did 12 to 30 years ago with any degree of accuracy. Self-reporting is notoriously bad for research purposes.
Why would it help? A big point of exercise in middle age and beyond is to keep off the pounds. After menopause, fat tissue is a chief source of estrogen.

So by exercising in middle age and beyond, we're supposed to keep off the pounds? We all know how well exercise works to take off pounds, so it makes me wonder how well it works to keep them off when middle age is when some of us either start to gain a little bit or the weight we already have shifts its position on our bodies.
Many breast cancer risks a woman can't change: How early she starts menstruating, how late menopause hits, family history of the disease.
Even though the exercise benefit is modest, physical activity and body weight are risk factors that women can control, Patel stressed.
"I'd say you and your daughter are getting off the couch," she said. "Women who engage in physical activity not only during adolescence but during adulthood lower their risk."

I agree that we can control how much physical activity we get, but I vehemently disagree that we can control our body weight. If that were the case, there would be no fat women.
This is another case of blaming us for a disease we get because we don't work hard enough to control our weight. I don't care how hard you work to control the risk factors for anything that may happen in your life, sometimes you're still going to have bad things happen in spite of everything you've done. Some women will not get breast cancer, even if they do have a family history of it. Some women will get breast cancer even if there is no family history of it. Some will get it in spite of exercising and eating well, some will not get it in spite of having a sedentary life and not eating the best they can. Life is a crap shoot, and you can't control every factor for every possible disease out there. So, love your body, take the best care of it that you can, given your particular situation, and deal with whatever life throws at you (expect the worst, hope for the best and you'll never be surprised).


  1. Are there socioeconomic factors involved in determining breast cancer risks? Because it would seem to me that women who could remember exactly how much activity they were getting in middle school would likely be those women who grew up in a culture of lessons and organized sports, which would mean reasonably well-off and involved parents. I could certainly tell you how often I had riding lessons in middle school, for instance, but I have no real clue how much time I spent with friends at the pool or roaming around in the woods by myself.

  2. Huh. This study would seem to dispute my previous comment about SES and breast cancer; they claim that breast cancer is more common among women of higher socioeconomic status (though more deadly among women of lower SES).

  3. Actual incidences of breast cancer (or any condition) are not the same as identified/diagnosed cases. Screening is higher among those in higher SES, hence "more cancer." Tragically, a significant number of those tiny lumps would never have gone on to cause the women problems, but they will live their lives as breast cancer survivors and fearing for a recurrence.

  4. Wow, you are absolutely right that the recall of someone regarding their physical activity back to age 12 is going to be ridiculously flawed. I am really starting to hate the Nurses' Health Study.

  5. My husband's mother died in 1978 of breast cancer. She was a little heavy but not fat. I had read in an article that people who use electric blankets have a higher risk of cancer, and she did use one. The other factors that led to her death were that at the time there was no chemo for treatment, they put her on radiation. That zapped all her energy. So there are other reasons people die of breast cancer, and it most important to encourage early detection, that is mamograms, which until recently my insurance didn't even cover!


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