Physical Activity & Cancer

Studying How Physically Active Lifestyles Reduce Cancer Risk

A physically active lifestyle can reduce the risk for several cancer types. Numerous epidemiologic studies have demonstrated that regular exercise is associated with decreased risk of:

  • cancer of the colon,
  • postmenopausal breast cancer, and
  • endometrium cancer.

Further suggestive evidence exists for associations for lung, pancreatic, premenopausal breast, and prostate cancer.

Risk reductions are considered to range between 20 to 30 percent and it has been estimated that 14 percent of all cancer cases in men and 16.0 percent in women can be attributed to physical inactivity in Europe.

In addition, it becomes increasingly known that exercise in cancer patients and survivors improves quality of life, reduces therapy- and cancer-related side effects, and might reduce the risk of recurrence and cancer mortality, so that exercise is more and more seen as an effective supportive cancer therapy.

The Ulrich group investigates the protective effects of physical activity (PA) and related concepts such as:

  • fitness and muscle strength on cancer risk (primary prevention), biomarkers, and
  • molecular mechanisms,
  • as well as effects on oncologic treatment and cancer prognosis (tertiary prevention).

Dr. Ulrich’s interdisciplinary teams at her prior institutions, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, have worked actively on increasing scientific and public knowledge about the relevance of physical activity and obesity-prevention in reducing cancer burden.

She and her team have conducted both randomized controlled trials and observational studies, established a network of physicians and organized several conferences on the topic of exercise, energy balance, and cancer. 

Exercise as a Biomarker for Cancer Risk

In terms of cancer prevention, the Ulrich group has published extensively on biomarkers of cancer risk that can be impacted by exercise and diet, including adipose-tissue gene expression, inflammation, insulin/IGF and many more. For cancer patients, goals are now to establish a safe, evidence-based and individually optimized training programs and further strengthen the evidence base in terms of biologic underpinnings, quality of life and clinically relevant endpoints.

The focus of research at the Huntsman Cancer Institute are studies on biomarkers of exercise and cancer as well as intervention studies among cancer patients. The studies are under development with local investigators and in collaboration with the NIH TREC initiative.

Neli Ulrich, MS, PhD
Principal Investigator
Cancer Center Bio

Open Positions

Research Assistant Professor or Postdoctoral Research Associate. To learn more view the online posting description (PRN12645B) or view the posting ad PDF.

To learn more, view the position description to apply online or email