Physical Activity May Reduce Breast Cancer Risk for African-American Women

Two or more hours of weekly vigorous exercise reduces breast cancer risk by 12%, Roswell Park-led study shows

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A new large study concludes that African-American women who engaged in recent vigorous exercise had a 12% lower risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The research, led by Zhihong Gong, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, in collaboration with colleagues at Boston University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study, which involved more than 4,400 women with breast cancer and more than 16,000 women without cancer, is significant because it’s one of the first large studies on the relationship between physical activity and breast cancer risk in African-Americans, and because it highlights steps African-American women can take to reduce their risk for breast cancer.

Christine Ambrosone, PhD, shares the study's findings and emphasizes the importance of exercise when it comes to overall cancer prevention.

“American women of African ancestry are more likely than women of European ancestry to be diagnosed with breast cancer at younger ages, to have more aggressive estrogen-receptor-negative cancer and to die from the disease,” says Dr. Gong. “Physical activity represents an opportunity to reduce the burden of breast cancer, especially among African-American women.”

The new research is based on data from the African American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk Consortium (AMBER), a large collaborative project involving four studies: the Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS), the Multi-Ethnic Cohort (MEC) Study, the Carolina Breast Cancer Study (CBCS), and the Women’s Circle of Health Study (WCHS). The research team found that recent vigorous exercise — such as running, walking/climbing briskly up a hill, fast cycling, and participation in sports — was associated with a modest decrease in risk for breast cancer. The lower risk remained regardless of age, menopausal status, body mass index and childbirth status.

Co-author Christine Ambrosone, PhD, a Principal Investigator of the AMBER Consortium and Senior Vice President of Population Sciences at Roswell Park, adds, “This large study provides further evidence that vigorous physical activity may be associated with a lower risk of breast cancer in African-American women. Specifically, two or more hours per week of strenuous activity may be sufficient to reduce risk, making physical activity a promising target for intervention to reduce the burden of this most common non-skin cancer among women.”

This research was supported, in part, by grants from the National Cancer Institute (award nos. P01CA151135, R01CA058420, UM1CA164974, R01CA100598, R01CA098663, UM1CA164973, R01CA54281, R01CA063464, R01CA185623, P50CA58223, U01CA179715, K07CA178293), the U.S. Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, the Era of Hope Scholar Award Program, The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the University Cancer Research Fund at the University of North Carolina.

The study, “Vigorous physical activity and risk of breast cancer in the African American breast cancer epidemiology and risk consortium,” appears in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment and is available at


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