Lower prevalence of breast cancer and cancers of the reproductive system among former college athletes compared to non-athletes

Br J Cancer. 1985 Dec;52(6):885-91. doi: 10.1038/bjc.1985.273.


The prevalence (lifetime occurrence) rate of cancers of the reproductive system (uterus, ovary, cervix and vagina) and breast cancer was determined for 5,398 living alumnae, 2,622 of whom were former college athletes and 2,776 non-athletes, from data on medical and reproductive history, athletic training and diet. The former athletes had a significantly lower risk of cancer of the breast and reproductive system than did the non-athletes. The relative risk (RR), non-athletes/athletes, for cancers of the reproductive system was 2.53. 95% confidence limits (CL) (1.17, 5.47). The RR for breast cancer was 1.86, 95% CL (1.00, 3.47). The analysis controlled for potential confounding factors including age, family history of cancer, age of menarche, number of pregnancies, use of oral contraceptives, use of oestrogen in the menopausal period, smoking, and leanness. Of the college athletes, 82.4% had been on pre-college teams compared to 24.9% of the college non-athletes. We conclude that long term athletic training may lower the risk of breast cancer and cancers of the reproductive system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Height
  • Body Weight
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Menarche
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk
  • Sports*
  • United States