Studies show a protective relationship between physical activity and breast cancer risk across the life course from menarche to postmenopausal years. Mammographic breast density is a known and strong breast cancer risk factor. Whether the association of physical activity with breast cancer risk is mediated through mammographic breast density is poorly understood. This systematic review summarizes published studies that investigated the association between physical activity and mammographic breast density and discusses the methodological issues that need to be addressed. We included in this review studies that were published before October 31, 2011 that were accessible in full-text format and were published in English. Weidentified 20 studies through the PubMed Central, BioMed Central, Embase, and Scopus and using the search terms "physical activity and breast density" and "exercise and breast density" as well as through manual searches of the bibliographies of the articles identified in electronic searches. We found no evidence of association between physical activity and breast density across the studies by grouping them first by the timing of physical activity assessment (in adolescence, current/recent, past, and lifetime) and then by women's menopausal status (premenopausal and postmenopausal). Given the strength of the relationship between physical activity and breast cancer and the null findings of this review, it is unlikely that the effect of physical activity is mediated through an effect on breast density.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-380
Number of pages14
JournalBreast Cancer Research and Treatment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Breast cancer risk
  • Breast density
  • Exercise
  • Physical activity


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