Epidemiologic Research Program – Physical Activity and Cancer

Physical activity is considered an increasingly important factor in the prevention of cancer. Approximately 10 to 14 percent of all cancer deaths in Europe 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 over the last decade in several large-scale national and international observational studies on the protective effects of physical activity in reducing cancer risks as well as in predicting cancer prognosis. Many of these projects were or are being 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.

Research focuses on:

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

Various studies within the international EPIC cohort on the association of physical activity to different types of tumors (colon, breast, lung, endometrium, rectum, stomach) were and will be carried out. The MARIE and MARIEplus studies comprise another important platform for breast cancer research, in which the effects of physical activity before and after the diagnosis on the risks, prognosis (recurrence, overall mortality and specific mortality), and quality of life are examined. Using the available blood samples and clinical data from these studies, biomarkers and possible biological mechanisms can also be studied, in order to better understand the underlying biological mechanisms of the observed effects (e.g. insulin-like growth factors and endogeneous sex hormones). Additionally the data from the observational investigations can be used to complement those from current randomized clinical studies of cancer patients.
Through our efforts, the factor “physical activity” has been established as a core element in the developing national cohort. A new, extremely sustainable research platform in the field of “Physical Activity”, independent of indications, will therefore evolve in the near future. With this, the conduction of quantitative risk assessments will also be strengthened, with which the relevance of preventive measures for the general public, beyond the conventional method of relative risk assessment in epidemiology, can be investigated. Linking and expanding these studies in the field of health economics would be a pioneering step. 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.