I took a walk this morning. Later on, I’m going to a vinyasa yoga class.
I don’t work out because I want to reduce my breast cancer risk. Until a few weeks ago I hadn’t really thought of exercise in those terms, to be honest. But recent studies support that potential effect.
Three and a half years ago I learned that I have a BRCA2 mutation and thus a 45% or greater chance of breast cancer in my lifetime. With medical support, I decided (as do the majority of BRCA+ women) to do high-risk surveillance rather than a preventive mastectomy. Because of good screening tools and treatments for breast cancer, such enhanced surveillance gives a similar survival rate as does prophylactic mastectomy.
But with that 45% (or more) figure in my mind, it seemed to me that any lifestyle or environmental impacts on my risk were dwarfed in comparison to the inherited risk that my body naturally harbored.
Close surveillance, with mammogram/ ultrasound and breast MRI six months apart, could at best accelerate the detection of any cancer that might arise. The risk level remained. (I wasn’t ready then to consider chemoprevention, taking a drug like Tamoxifen to potentially reduce the odds of getting breast cancer, but have since started a five-year course of that medication).
I was very aware however that though exercise hadn’t prevented my mother from getting either breast or ovarian cancer, her pre-illness fitness level made her much better able to cope with both diseases, especially the latter.
Mom’s ovarian cancer treatment four years ago started with a major abdominal surgery and she was in the hospital for quite some time, getting her lung capacity and strength back. She went into the operation in good physical shape – she and my dad take daily walks and she hikes with a group of friends once a week. If she hadn’t been so strong initially, I cannot imagine how much harder her post-surgical experience would have been.
Since that time, I do think about my mother as I get on the elliptical machine or walk the Lady Bird Lake trail. I exercise at least partially with the goal of being in the best possible shape to cope with whatever illness (or emotional upset or other life challenge) may be in my future. My Mom was a good role model there, as she is in so many ways.
But it seems I may be reducing my breast cancer risk as well.
A large American Cancer Society research study recently found that women who walked for at least 7 hours per week (generally 1 hour per day) had a 14% lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who walked less than 3 hours per week.
Not only that, but the group of women who worked out longer and more strenuously – 10 hours per week of vigorous exercise – saw an even greater reduction, with a breast cancer risk 25% lower than the least active group.
And another study coming from the University of Minnesota suggests a potential mechanism through which exercise might be impacting breast cancer incidence, through changing the ratio of estrogen metabolites.
Curious to read more? see http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/22/10/1906.short
These were studies drawn from the general population, not specifically of women with BRCA mutations. There is no guarantee that the same results would apply to our specialized tribe.
But I appreciate the idea that my walks, and my yoga and gym time, may be reducing my breast cancer risk. It’s not why I do it, but as a potential side benefit it isn’t bad at all…
And yes, I’m going for a walk again, tomorrow.