Epidemiologic Research Program – Physical Activity and Cancer

Physical activity is considered as an increasingly important factor in the prevention of cancer. For the most frequent cancer types in Europe, it has been estimated that approximately 10 to 14 percent of deaths arising from these cancers are related to physical inactivity. These findings are based primarily on epidemiologic research.

At the German Cancer Research Center, Prof. Steindorf’s team has participated in several large-scale national and international observational studies on the effects of physical activity before and after a cancer diagnosis on primary cancer risks, cancer prognosis (recurrence, overall mortality and cancer specific mortality), as well as health-related quality of life.

Thus, epidemiologic research in this area focuses on:

  1. Physical activity in primary prevention
  2. Physical activity in tertiary prevention
  3. Underlying biological mechanisms
  4. Innovative methods of assessing physical activity and inactivity
  5. Estimation of the impact of physical activity and related factors on public health

Important projects have been based on the international EPIC cohort as well as the MARIE and MARIEplus studies on postmenopausal breast cancer. Many of these projects have been carried out in close cooperation with scientists from the Division of Cancer Epidemiology (C020) at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), and other national and international partners. If available, blood samples from these studies have been analyzed in order to better understand the underlying biological mechanisms of the observed effects. Additionally, the data from the observational investigations can be used to complement those from current randomized clinical studies of cancer patients.

With the German National Cohort (GNC), a new and sustainable research platform for the field of physical activity, independent of indications, is evolving. From the very beginning, our Division helped to establish the area of physical activity and physical fitness as a core element in this cohort. Furthermore, we have contributed to elaborate the innovative and broad-scale exposure assessment in this cohort that will consist of 200,000 participants from all over Germany. Many of the research activities mentioned here aim at implementing services in the public health sector that promote primary prevention via sports and physical activity.

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