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Exercise Reduces Black Women’s Breast Cancer Risk

 Exercise Reduces Black Women’s Breast Cancer Risk

Assistant professor Vanessa Sheppard, a researcher at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, says data about the association of physical activity and breast cancer has been lacking for African-American women, despite the known benefits of exercise.

October 5, 2010 – A 64 percent drop in breast cancer risk for black women may be achieved through vigorous exercise for as little as two hours a week, according to researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“People often want know what they can do to reduce their risk of disease, and we have found that just two hours or more per week of vigorous activity can make a difference in one’s risk of developing breast cancer,” said the study’s lead researcher, assistant professor Vanessa Sheppard.

Sheppard presented her study Oct. 1 at an American Association for Cancer Research conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Miami. 

Data Lacking 

She says data about the association of physical activity and breast cancer has been lacking for African-American women, despite the known benefits of exercise.

“We know from other studies that being physically active can have benefits in other diseases that occur at high rates in African American women, such as diabetes and hypertension,” Sheppard says. “Four out of five African American women are either overweight or obese, and so disease control is a particularly important issue for these women.” The study included 97 Washington, D.C., area African American women with recently diagnosed breast cancer and 102 from the area without breast cancer who reported on their physical activity over the past year.

Huge Drop in Risk

The study showed that African American women who engaged in vigorous exercise for at least two hours a week had a 64 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who reported little physical activity.

Sheppard says women who engaged in moderate exercise had a 17 percent reduced risk. “Several diet and exercise studies have been conducted in Caucasian women, but there is limited information about diet and exercise in African American women,” Sheppard explains. “It is important to identify breast cancer risk factors in this population that can be modified because African-American women suffer from higher rates of mortality compared to white women.”

She also notes that African American women with breast cancer tend to be overweight and have more chronic conditions at diagnosis compared to white women. 

"In the midst of all the bad reports we hear about breast cancer and black women, our study suggests the welcome news that black women can greatly reduce their risk through physical activity," Sheppard says. "We naturally will want to confirm these results in a larger sample, but our preliminary findings offer hope."

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