Objective: To clarify whether type and timing of physical activity affect postmenopausal breast cancer risk.
Methods: In a population-based case-control study within the Swedish female population 50-74 years of age, 3347 women with invasive, postmenopausal breast cancer (84% of all eligible) and 3455 controls (82% of all selected) reported on past leisure-time physical activity. Record linkage to decennial census data (1960-1990) provided estimates of their occupational physical activity. Odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals were estimated by multivariate logistic regression.
Results: After adjustment for potential confounders, women in sedentary occupations during their reproductive years (25-44 years of age) had a 50% higher risk for postmenopausal breast cancer, compared to those with the physically most demanding jobs. Only the most recent leisure-time physical activity was associated with a significant risk reduction. Women with the combination of sedentary jobs and lack of leisure-time exercise had a three-fold higher risk of breast cancer, compared to the physically most active both inside and outside the workplace.
Conclusion: Effects of occupational and leisure-time physical activity on breast cancer risk appear to have different latency times, and/or to be effect-modified by age or reproductive status. Although chance might explain our findings, it is advisable to consider type and timing of physical activity in future studies.