Avoidable cancers in the Nordic countries—the potential impact of increased physical activity on postmenopausal breast, colon and endometrial cancer

Therese M.L. Andersson*, Gerda Engholm, Anne Sofie Q. Lund, Sofia Lourenço, Jeppe Matthiessen, Eero Pukkala, Magnus Stenbeck, Laufey Tryggvadottir, Elisabete Weiderpass, Hans Storm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Background: Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of colon, endometrial and postmenopausal breast cancer. The aim of this study was to quantify the proportion of the cancer burden in the Nordic countries linked to insufficient levels of leisure time physical activity and estimate the potential for cancer prevention for these three sites by increasing physical activity levels. Methods: Using the Prevent macrosimulation model, the number of cancer cases in the Nordic countries over a 30-year period (2016–2045) was modelled, under different scenarios of increasing physical activity levels in the population, and compared with the projected number of cases if constant physical activity prevailed. Physical activity (moderate and vigorous) was categorised according to metabolic equivalents (MET) hours in groups with sufficient physical activity (15+ MET-hours/week), low deficit (9 to <15 MET-hours/week), medium deficit (3 to <9 MET-hours/week) and high deficit (<3 MET-hours/week). Results: If no one had insufficient levels of physical activity, about 11,000 colon, endometrial and postmenopausal breast cancer cases could be avoided in the Nordic countries in a 30-year period, which is 1% of the expected cases for the three cancer types. With a 50% reduction in all deficit groups by 2025 or a 100% reduction in the group of high deficit, approximately 0.5% of the expected cases for the three cancer types could be avoided. The number and percentage of avoidable cases was highest for colon cancer. Conclusion: 11,000 cancer cases could be avoided in the Nordic countries in a 30-year period, if deficit in physical activity was eliminated.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer
Pages (from-to)42-48
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • Breast cancer
  • Cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Moderate and vigorous physical activity
  • Nordic countries
  • Population attributable fraction
  • Potential impact fraction
  • Prevent macrosimulation model
  • Prevention

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