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Women’s College recruiting for study probing exercise and breast cancer risk

Researchers at the Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI) are shedding new light on breast cancer risk in women with BRCA mutations. A new study is probing whether exercise can influence cancer risk in women with a BRCA1 mutation.  

Women in Toronto can be a part of this exciting research by taking part in the study. If you’re over 18, have no personal history of cancer and are not pregnant or breastfeeding, you may be eligible to participate. You don’t need to have a BRCA mutation or a family history of cancer to take part.

For women with a BRCA mutation, risk of breast cancer is significantly higher than in the rest of the population. Everyone has two copies of the BRCA gene – one from each parent. This gene makes an important protein that is believed to help prevent breast cancer. Women with a BRCA mutation may make less of this protein, and having less of the protein increases their risk for developing breast cancer.

This research study, led by Dr. Joanne Kotsopoulos at WCRI, is investigating whether physical activity has any effect on the amount of protein the BRCA gene makes.

“What we want to see is whether a woman’s physical activity level can increase the amount of the protein that she’s producing,” explains study co-ordinator and graduate student Rachael Pettapiece-Phillips.

The goal is to identify potential ways that women with a BRCA1 mutation can lower their risk of developing cancer.

“Right now, when a woman finds out she has a mutation, there aren’t too many options available to her in terms of prevention,” says Pettapiece-Phillips. Those options include chemoprevention (taking medications to help lower cancer risk), and surgery to remove the breasts or ovaries. The Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit at WCRI is looking at different lifestyle factors that could have an impact on that risk.

“There’s not too much known right now about what lifestyle factors may impact their risk of developing cancer. So that’s why this is so important. If we discover that physical activity may increase the levels of the BRCA protein, this may in turn lead to a possible intervention that may decrease breast cancer risk. It would provide women who have mutations with some sort of control, and an option to exercise more to decrease their risk.”

Women participating in the study will have to visit WCRI twice.

“They’re short visits, but they have to come in to pick up the accelerometer, which is the device that we’re using to measure exercise levels, and then they have to come in a second time to get their blood drawn,” says Pettapiece-Phillips.

Women interested in taking part in the study can get more information here:


Rachael Pettapiece-Phillips
Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit
Women's College Research Institute
790 Bay Street, 7th floor, Toronto, ON M5G 1N8

Phone: 416-351-3800 ext. 2869

Email: rachael.pettapiece-phillips@wchospital.ca






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