National physical activity recommendations for older Australians: Discussion Document

4.6 Cancer prevention

The National Ageing Research Institute was commissioned by The Department of Health and Ageing to review the evidence and develop physical activity recommendations for older people.

Page last updated: 01 February 2011

Whilst the evidence is strongest for physical activity in the prevention of colonic cancer, the evidence for breast cancer is accumulating. The evidence remains mixed for the prevention of other forms of cancer (Bauman 2004). A cohort study conducted in Australia found that improved prognosis amongst those with colorectal cancer occurred amongst those who were physically active prior to diagnosis (Haydon, MacInnis et al. 2006), confirming previous level III study findings. The sample were not exclusively older people, but their median age was 68 years. The reduced hazard ratio 0.73 (95% CI 0.54-1.00) was significant even once adjusted for age, tumour stage and sex. The authors note that one limitation of their study was that they did not account for activity levels post diagnosis. They also did not adjust for any comorbidities. Further information on the impact of post diagnosis activity on survival and quality of life would be useful.

The association between breast cancer and physical activity is acknowledged. Unfortunately, most of the information comes from studies containing largely Caucasian women. High levels of physical activity have been associated with around 30% reduction in breast carcinoma risk (Gammon, John et al. 1998). A commentary review by McTiernan (2000) indicates that the association and its proposed underlying mechanisms may also pertain to women from other racial backgrounds. The ongoing Women’s Health Initiative in the US, which contains diverse population groups in its cohort, should illuminate this relationship further.

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