Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Pennsylvania have reported that physical activity may reduce the risk of developing lung cancer in current and former smokers. These results were published in the Journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

Increased physical activity has been associated with a lower incidence of several cancers and better outcomes after the diagnosis of cancer. To date there has been little reported on the relationship between lung cancer and physical activity. This is probably due to the fact that smoking cessation is the best way to prevent lung cancer.

To explore the relationship between physical activity and lung cancer risk in women, researchers evaluated information from the Iowa Women’s Health Study. This study involved more than 36,000 women who enrolled in the study in 1986 and were followed through 2002.

During follow-up a total of 777 cases of lung cancer were diagnosed in study participants. One hundred and twenty-five cases occurred in non-smokers, 177 in former smokers, and 475 in current smokers.

A high level of physical activity was defined as moderate workouts more than four times per week or vigorous workouts two or more times per week.

  • Women with a high level of physical activity were 23% less likely to develop lung cancer than women with a low level of physical activity.
  • A high level of physical activity reduced the risk of lung cancer by 28% in current smokers and by 37% in former smokers. Physical activity was not linked with lung cancer risk in never smokers.
  • Current smokers with a low level of physical activity had the highest risk of developing lung cancer.

The researchers conclude that physical activity may reduce the risk of lung cancer in women who are former or current smokers. Women who are current smokers should also be encouraged to quit smoking since smoking remains the strongest determinant of lung cancer risk.

Reference: Sinner P, Folsom AR, Harnack L, et al. The Association of Physical Activity with Lung Cancer Incidence in a Cohort of Older Women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention. 2006;15:2359-2363.

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