Linking physical activity to breast cancer via sex hormones part 1: The effect of physical activity on sex steroid hormones

The effect of physical activity on breast cancer risk may be partly mediated by sex steroid hormones. This review synthesised and appraised the evidence for an effect of physical activity on sex steroid hormones. Systematic searches were performed using MEDLINE (Ovid), EMBASE (Ovid), and SPORTDiscus to identify experimental studies and prospective cohort studies that examined physical activity and estrogens, progestins, and/or androgens, as well as sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and glucocorticoids in pre- and post-menopausal women. Meta-analyses were performed to generate effect estimates. Risk of bias was assessed, and the GRADE system was used to appraise quality of the evidence. Twenty-eight randomized controlled trials (RCTs), 81 non-randomized interventions, and six observational studies were included. Estrogens, progesterone, and androgens mostly decreased, and SHBG increased, in response to physical activity. Effect sizes were small, and evidence quality was graded moderate or high for each outcome. Reductions in select sex steroid hormones following exercise supports the biological plausibility of the first part of the physical activity - sex hormone - breast cancer pathway. The confirmed effect of physical activity on decreasing circulating sex steroid hormones supports its causal role in preventing breast cancer.