Researchers to Study Exercise as Prevention for Breast Cancer

January 23, 2006

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center are teaming up with physical therapy students from Winston-Salem State University to study how regular exercise may help prevent breast cancer.

The researchers are recruiting women, ages 25 to 35, who don’t currently exercise to participate in a six-week walking program led by physical therapy students. The group will walk for 45 minutes four times a week. Walkers will get tips on how to begin an exercise program, including determining their target heart rates, and information on stretching, body mechanics and healthy eating.

The goal of the study is to see if walking can help reduce levels of growth hormones, such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which have been associated with increased cancer risk. IGF-1 increases cell growth and prevents cell death and has been proposed to be a factor in the promotion of cancer.

Animal research by Medical Center scientist William Sonntag, Ph.D., has shown that a modest suppression of growth hormone and related compounds beginning in early adulthood may delay the onset or progression of several types of cancer. Sonntag found that a lifelong deficiency of IGF-1 decreased cancer risk in animals by approximately 45 percent and decreased cancer deaths by 12 to 15 percent.

In addition, a type of mice that have naturally low IGF-1 do not develop breast cancer when they are treated with a cancer-causing agent. But, when these animals are treated with growth hormone that raises IGF-1, they develop breast cancer at a greater than 90 percent rate.

Research in humans has shown that higher levels of IGF-1 do increase cancer risk and that exercise can lower levels of the hormone. The current study seeks to answer the question of how much exercise is enough to be beneficial by lowering growth factors such as IGF-1. IGF-1 levels will be measured in five blood samples during the study.

“We know that exercise is beneficial and may reduce risk for some kinds of cancer,” said Tim Kute, Ph.D., lead researcher. “This study is designed to understand the mechanism and to learn more about what type of exercise is beneficial and how much is needed.”

The research is sponsored by the Piedmont Alliance for Research and Cancer Education. Participants will receive $400 at the end of the study. The study lasts for 12 weeks – participants will follow their normal routines for six weeks and will then join the walking program for six weeks.

People interested in participating should call (336) 750-2190 or email Kute at


Media Contacts: Karen Richardson,, or Shannon Koontz,, 336-716-4587.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,187 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

Media Relations