Physical activity may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer via its effect on the insulin/insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signaling system. A systematic review searched for randomized controlled trials (RCT), Mendelian randomization and prospective cohort studies that examined the effects of physical activity on insulin/IGF signaling [IGFs, their binding proteins (IGFBP), and markers of insulin resistance] in adult women. Meta-analyses were performed to generate effect estimates. Risk of bias was assessed, and the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation system used to determine the overall quality of the evidence. Fifty-eight RCTs met our inclusion criteria, no observational or Mendelian randomization studies met the criteria for inclusion. Meta-analyses indicated that physical activity interventions (vs. control) reduced fasting insulin, the Homeostatic Model Assessment for Insulin Resistance and fasting glucose. Physical activity increased IGF-1, but there was no clear effect on IGFBP-3 or the ratio of IGF-1:IGFBP-3. Strong evidence was only established for fasting insulin and insulin resistance. Further research is needed to examine the effect of physical activity on C-peptide and HBA1c in women. Reductions in fasting insulin and insulin resistance following exercise suggest some biological plausibility of the first part of the physical activity–insulin/IGF signaling–breast cancer pathway.

See related article by Drummond et al., p. 2116

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