Dose-response effects of aerobic exercise on estrogen among women at high risk for breast cancer: a randomized controlled trial

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2015 Nov;154(2):309-18. doi: 10.1007/s10549-015-3604-z. Epub 2015 Oct 28.


Medical and surgical interventions for elevated breast cancer risk (e.g., BRCA1/2 mutation, family history) focus on reducing estrogen exposure. Women at elevated risk may be interested in less aggressive approaches to risk reduction. For example, exercise might reduce estrogen, yet has fewer serious side effects and less negative impact than surgery or hormonal medications. Randomized controlled trial. Increased risk defined by risk prediction models or BRCA mutation status. Eligibility: Age 18-50, eumenorrheic, non-smokers, and body mass index (BMI) between 21 and 50 kg/m(2). 139 were randomized. Treadmill exercise: 150 or 300 min/week, five menstrual cycles. Control group maintained exercise <75 min/week.

Primary outcome: Area under curve (AUC) for urinary estrogen. Secondary measures: urinary progesterone, quantitative digitized breast dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging background parenchymal enhancement. Mean age 34 years, mean BMI 26.8 kg/m(2). A linear dose-response relationship was observed such that every 100 min of exercise is associated with 3.6 % lower follicular phase estrogen AUC (linear trend test, p = 0.03). No changes in luteal phase estrogen or progesterone levels. There was also a dose-response effect noted: for every 100 min of exercise, there was a 9.7 % decrease in background parenchymal enhancement as measured by imaging (linear trend test, p = 0.009). Linear dose-response effect observed to reduce follicular phase estrogen exposure measured via urine and hormone sensitive breast tissue as measured by imaging. Future research should explore maintenance of effects and extent to which findings are repeatable in lower risk women. Given the high benefit to risk ratio, clinicians can inform young women at increased risk that exercise may blunt estrogen exposure while considering whether to try other preventive therapies.

Keywords: Breast MRI; Breast cancer; Clinical trial; Estrogens; Exercise.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / urine*
  • Estrogens / urine*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Premenopause
  • Progesterone / urine
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Estrogens
  • Progesterone