Energetic factors, ovarian steroids and the risk of breast cancer

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In industrial countries, women often have excess metabolic energy due to high food consumption and low physical activity. High lifetime energy availability results in high lifetime levels of ovarian steroid hormones. Oestrogens and progesterone are hypothesized to play a crucial role in the development and prognosis of breast cancer. Epidemiological studies document the importance of physical activity and caloric limitations in reducing breast cancer risk. The risk of breast cancer is much higher in industrial countries than in developing countries, where women are characterized by lower energy intake and higher energy expenditure. It is likely, that the beneficial effects of physical activity and of negative energy balance are mediated by the reduced levels of ovarian steroids. While both weight loss and physical activity may have similar efficacy in suppressing ovarian function and, therefore, in reducing the risk of breast cancer, we suggest that it may be more advantageous for premenstrual women to achieve lifetime reduction in steroid levels by increasing their physical activity, rather than by weight loss due to caloric restriction alone.

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