Horizons: Cancer News

Simple Lifestyle Habit May Lower Risk of Ovarian Cancer

By Rachael Bieschke

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A growing body of research suggests staying active may help women reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. About one in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer during her lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.

In one study, researchers analyzed data from nine studies and found chronic inactivity was associated with ovarian cancer.  Compared with women who exercised regularly, non-exercisers were 34 percent more likely to develop ovarian cancer. The increased risk was found regardless of body weight — it applied to non-exercising women whether they were a healthy weight, overweight or obese.

In a second study, which analyzed data from 12 studies, inactivity was associated with a higher risk of mortality in women with ovarian cancer.  Those who reported being inactive were 22 to 34 percent more likely to die of ovarian cancer than women who exercised each week.

In short, it appears that not exercising may increase women’s risk of developing and dying from ovarian cancer, while regular exercise may lower both of these risks.

Of note, the researchers believe “any amount of regular, weekly recreational physical activity” may be beneficial for preventing ovarian cancer as well as reducing the risk of dying from the disease.

Exercise is thought to influence cancer risk by helping with weight control (obesity is a key risk factor for ovarian cancer) as well as by altering hormone and insulin levels and benefitting immune system function.

Since physical activity can also lower your risk of developing other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, there’s plenty of reason to start an exercise program today.

How much exercise is ideal? Public health guidelines suggest adults exercise moderately for at least 150 minutes, or vigorously for 75 minutes, each week. You can spread out your workouts over as many days as you like and even do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

In addition to aerobic activity, combining muscle strengthening to your routine at a minimum of two days a week can maximize your results, says Dr. Kathryn Doran, Chief, Division of Rehabilitation Services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America®

“There are many ways to strengthen your muscles, and can be done in the comfort of your own home, outdoors, or even in the gym.  Performing exercises with your own body weight, resistance bands, weights, or performing functional activities like heavy gardening (shoveling, digging, lifting, pushing, pulling) or even yoga can all add benefit to your physical and psychological well-being. Integrating these activities into your daily routine is one important key to success.”

Moderate exercise is activity that makes you breathe harder, such as a brisk walk or biking. Vigorous activity further increases your heart rate and makes you break a sweat. There are several strategies to measure if you are working on a moderate or vigorous level including measuring heart rate or level of perceived exertion, says Dr. Doran.

“The “talk test” is an additional strategy and is easy to use. If you are able to talk during exertion, but unable to sing, you are likely working on a moderate level.  If you are unable to talk and can only speak a few words at a time, you are likely working on a vigorous level.”

If you’re just starting out, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed. Even small amounts of exercise are better than no exercise at all, so start slow and gradually work your way up, increasing both the intensity and duration of your workouts. If you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, exercise may also be beneficial during your ovarian cancer treatment. However, you should talk to your doctor before you start an exercise routine to find out how to exercise safely during and after cancer treatment.

Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention July 2016
British Journal of Cancer June 28, 2016
Medical Xpress June 21, 2016

Quoted Sources
i American Cancer Society, Ovarian Cancer
ii Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention July 2016
iii British Journal of Cancer June 28, 2016