Exercise during the teen years may protect girls from future breast cancer


May 14, ABC News

Get your daughters off the couch: New research shows exercise during the teen years — starting as young as age 12 — can help protect girls from breast cancer when they're grown. Middle-aged women have long been advised to get active to lower their risk of breast cancer after menopause.

What's new: That starting so young pays off, too.

"This really points to the benefit of sustained physical activity from adolescence through the adult years, to get the maximum benefit," said Dr. Graham Colditz of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the study's lead author.

Researchers tracked nearly 65,000 nurses ages 24 to 42 who enrolled in a major health study. They answered detailed questionnaires about their physical activity dating back to age 12. Within six years of enrolling, 550 were diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause. A quarter of all breast cancer is diagnosed at these younger ages, when it's typically more aggressive.

Women who were physically active as teens and young adults were 23 percent less likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer than women who grew up sedentary, researchers report Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The biggest impact was regular exercise from ages 12 to 22.

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photo: Teenage girls who exercise now may enjoy a lower risk of breast cancer later in life, new research suggests (Jamie Grill/Iconica/Getty Images)