Linking physical activity to breast cancer: text mining results and a protocol for systematically reviewing three potential mechanistic pathways

Epidemiological research suggests that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, but the causal nature of this link is not clear. Investigating mechanistic pathways can provide evidence of biological plausibility and improve causal inference. This project will examine three putative pathways (sex steroid hormones, insulin signalling, and inflammation) in a series of two-stage systematic reviews. Stage 1 used Text Mining for Mechanism Prioritisation (TeMMPo) to identify and prioritise relevant biological intermediates. Stage 2 will systematically review the findings from studies of (i) physical activity and intermediates; and (ii) intermediates and breast cancer. Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE, and SPORTDiscus will be searched using a combination of subject headings and free-text terms. Human intervention and prospective, observational studies will be eligible for inclusion. Meta-analysis will be performed where possible. Risk of bias will be assessed using the Cochrane Collaboration tool, the ROBINS-I or ROBINS-E tool, depending on study type. Strength of evidence will be assessed using the GRADE system. In addition to synthesising the mechanistic evidence that links physical activity with breast cancer risk, this project may also identify priority areas for future research and help inform the design and implementation of physical activity interventions.