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Increased physical activity lowers risk of 13 cancer types: study

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Bethesda, MD – Participating in more physical activity may lower the risk of 13 types of cancer, according to a new study from the National Cancer Institute.

As part of an effort to analyze the connection between physical activity and 26 cancer types, researchers examined data from about 187,000 cases of cancer in 1.4 million people ages 19 to 98 in the United States and Europe who were tracked for an average of 11 years. The participants reported their physical activity through surveys.

On average, participants engaged in about 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Moderate to intense activities could be walking, running or swimming.

Researchers found that a higher level of physical activity was related to a 7 percent lower risk of developing cancer. The risk of developing seven types of cancer was at least 20 percent lower among the most-active study participants.

Higher levels of physical activity were connected to lower risks for 13 of the 26 cancers studied:

  • Esophageal adenocarcinoma (42 percent lower risk)
  • Liver cancer (27 percent)
  • Lung cancer (26 percent)
  • Kidney cancer (23 percent)
  • Gastric cardia cancer (22 percent)
  • Endometrial cancer (21 percent)
  • Myeloid leukemia (20 percent)
  • Myeloma (17 percent)
  • Colon cancer (16 percent)
  • Head and neck cancers (15 percent)
  • Bladder cancer (13 percent)
  • Rectal cancer (13 percent)
  • Breast cancer (10 percent)

When the researchers adjusted for body mass index, most connections between physical activity and lower risk varied little, indicating that weight loss was not a factor.

“Leisure-time physical activity is known to reduce risks of heart disease and risk of death from all causes, and our study demonstrates that it is also associated with lower risks of many types of cancer,” study author Steven C. Moore, an Earl Stadtman Tenure-Track Investigator at NCI, said in a press release. “Furthermore, our results support that these associations are broadly generalizable to different populations, including people who are overweight or obese, or those with a history of smoking. Health care professionals counseling inactive adults should promote physical activity as a component of a healthy lifestyle and cancer prevention.”

The study was published online May 16 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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