Physical activity across the lifespan and liver cancer incidence in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study cohort

Cancer Med. 2018 Apr;7(4):1450-1457. doi: 10.1002/cam4.1343. Epub 2018 Mar 13.


While liver cancer rates in the United States are increasing, 5-year survival is only 17.6%, underscoring the importance of prevention. Physical activity has been associated with lower risk of developing liver cancer, but most studies assess physical activity only at a single point in time, often in midlife. We utilized physical activity data from 296,661 men and women in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study cohort to test whether physical activity patterns over the life course could elucidate the importance of timing of physical activity on liver cancer risk. We used group modeling of longitudinal data to create physical activity trajectories using four time points across the life course from teenage years through middle age, identifying seven distinct trajectories. We then used Cox proportional hazards regression to assess the association between the physical activity trajectories and risk of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer. We found that, in adjusted analyses, compared to those with consistently low physical activity patterns, those who maintained activity levels over time had a 26-36% lower risk of liver cancer and those who increased physical activity over time had no associations with risk, while those who decreased activity over time had a nonsignificantly higher risk of liver cancer. Our results suggest that sustained physical activity is associated with lower risk of hepatocellular carcinoma, while increasing physical activity later in life may not yield the same benefit. Future research with larger sample sizes and more detailed data on dose and timing of physical activity may continue to yield insight into this association between physical activity and liver cancer risk.

Keywords: Epidemiology and prevention; life course; liver cancer; physical activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / epidemiology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / prevention & control
  • Diet
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Liver Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Health Surveillance
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult