AICR report: Strong global evidence that alcohol is bad, exercise is good for breast cancer prevention

June 21, 2017

A UNC Gillings School of Public Health researcher contributed to a new report about breast cancer risk, finding strong evidence that drinking alcohol increases the risk and vigorous exercise reduces it.

Dr. Stephen Hursting

Dr. Stephen Hursting

Stephen D. Hursting, PhD, professor of nutrition at the Gillings School, was part of a 10-member panel that worked with other researchers to generate a report of systematic reviews titled Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer.

The report, published by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and released the week of May 22, is part of AICR’s Continuous Update Project (CUP), which periodically gathers the latest scientific evidence about various cancers.

AICR’s last report on breast cancer was published in 2010. Hursting also contributed to additional CUP reports in 2016 that included new information about esophageal and stomach cancers.

The breast cancer report’s analysis of global research finds strong evidence that as little as one alcoholic drink a day increases breast cancer risk. For the first time, there is also data that vigorous exercise – e.g., running fast or bicycling – decreases the risk of both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer.

The report also showed that:

  • Being overweight or obese increases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer, the most common type of breast cancer.
  • Mothers who breastfeed are at lower risk for breast cancer.
  • Greater adult weight gain increases risk of post-menopausal breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, with an estimated 252,000 new cases this year. AICR estimates that one in three breast cancer cases in the U.S. could be prevented if women did not drink alcohol, were physically active and maintained a healthy weight.

“This analysis involved more than 100 studies that examined the medical history of 12 million women, making it the largest study to date to examine breast cancer risk factors,” Hursting said. “The findings reinforce and extend previous reports that having a physically active lifestyle, maintaining a healthy weight throughout life and limiting alcohol are all steps women can take to lower their breast cancer risk.”

Kelly Browning

Kelly Browning

AICR sponsors a distinguished professorship at the UNC Gillings School, held since 2006 by June Stevens, PhD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology. The American Institute for Cancer Research/World Cancer Research Fund Distinguished Professorship is intended for a researcher who advances understanding of the role played by food and nutrition in the prevention of cancer.

Kelly B. Browning serves as AICR’s chief executive officer and has been in a leadership role at AICR for more than three decades.

“The leaders at AICR are so proud of our nearly 20-year partnership with the Gillings School and of Dr. Hursting’s membership on the CUP Panel,” Browning said. “His passion for our mission and for nutrition and cancer research as a crucial area of inquiry ensure that our CUP reports, including this latest report on breast cancer, are the most comprehensive and up-to-date analyses of the evidence, so that AICR can offer the best advice to help people lower their cancer risk.”


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or