Sedentary behavior and cancer: a systematic review of the literature and proposed biological mechanisms

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2010 Nov;19(11):2691-709. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-10-0815. Epub 2010 Sep 10.


Background: Sedentary behavior (prolonged sitting or reclining characterized by low energy expenditure) is associated with adverse cardiometabolic profiles and premature cardiovascular mortality. Less is known for cancer risk. The purpose of this review is to evaluate the research on sedentary behavior and cancer, to summarize possible biological pathways that may underlie these associations, and to propose an agenda for future research.

Methods: Articles pertaining to sedentary behavior and (a) cancer outcomes and (b) mechanisms that may underlie the associations between sedentary behavior and cancer were retrieved using Ovid and Web of Science databases.

Results: The literature review identified 18 articles pertaining to sedentary behavior and cancer risk, or to sedentary behavior and health outcomes in cancer survivors. Ten of these studies found statistically significant, positive associations between sedentary behavior and cancer outcomes. Sedentary behavior was associated with increased colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, and prostate cancer risk; cancer mortality in women; and weight gain in colorectal cancer survivors. The review of the literature on sedentary behavior and biological pathways supported the hypothesized role of adiposity and metabolic dysfunction as mechanisms operant in the association between sedentary behavior and cancer.

Conclusions: Sedentary behavior is ubiquitous in contemporary society; its role in relation to cancer risk should be a research priority. Improving conceptualization and measurement of sedentary behavior is necessary to enhance validity of future work.

Impact: Reducing sedentary behavior may be a viable new cancer control strategy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Sedentary Behavior*
  • Weight Gain