Background/methods: Although several studies have suggested that physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer, such a decrease has not been found consistently, perhaps because physical activity was assessed in different ways and for restricted periods. Few studies have assessed the risk of breast cancer in relation to lifetime physical activity. We used data from a population-based, case-control study, including 918 case subjects (aged 20-54 years) and 918 age-matched population control subjects, to examine associations between breast cancer risk and physical activity at ages 10-12 years and 13-15 years, lifetime recreational activity, and title of longest held job.
Results: Women who were more active than their peers at ages 10-12 years had a lower risk of breast cancer (odds ratio [OR] = 0.68; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.49-0.94). Women who had ever engaged in recreational physical activity had a reduced risk of breast cancer compared with inactive women (OR = 0.70; 95% CI = 0.56-0.88). Neither very early recreational activity (before age 20 years) nor recent activity (last 5 years) was associated with a greater reduction in risk than recreational activity in the intermediate period. Furthermore, women who started recreational activities after age 20 years and women who started earlier and continued their activities throughout adult life experienced a similar reduction in risk. Lean women, i.e., women with a body mass index (weight in kg/[height in m](2)) less than 21. 8 kg/m(2), appeared to have a lower risk associated with recreational physical activity than women with a body mass index greater than 24.5 kg/m(2) (OR = 0.57 [95% CI = 0.40-0.82] and OR = 0. 92 [95% CI = 0.65-1.29], respectively).
Conclusions: Our findings support the hypothesis that recreational physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer. Physical activity in early or recent life does not appear to be associated with additional beneficial effects.