You are here

Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD

Member (Professor)
Public Health Sciences Division
Member, Epidemiology
University of Washington
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Seattle, Washington

Current Research

  • Seeking to characterize the effect of weight loss and exercise on markers of breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.
  • Healthy overweight women are assigned to one of four weight loss interventions to determine if weight loss and/or exercise can reduce cancer-associated biomarkers.
  • These studies may be informative in assessing risk and developing prevention interventions.

There is a clear association between being overweight or obese and an increased risk of breast cancer. Dr. McTiernan and others have shown that weight loss has long-term, significant effects on biological factors linked to breast cancer risk. In her current study, she is looking at the effects of short bouts of exercise on these biologic markers to determine if exercise without weight loss can be beneficial in reducing risk.

Full Research Summary

Women who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk for developing breast cancer after menopause. Overweight or obese women of any age with breast cancer have a worse survival rate than normal weight women with breast cancer. 

Physical activity, on the other hand, is associated with reduced breast cancer risk and improved survival for women of all ages, perhaps through effects on weight, estrogens, inflammation, or other factors. 

Dr. McTiernan and her team have found that women with obesity obtain less protection from exercise than normal-weight women. Previous research has focused on chronic (over several months) exercise effects on breast cancer biomarkers. However, some biological effects are greatest in the hours after a bout of exercise. 

This year, the team will explore these “acute” effects of exercise in a clinical trial in which 100 women are assigned to either: 1) a 45-minute exercise bout or 2) a 45-minute resting control group. Before and after the exercise (or rest), and after an additional hour, they will collect blood to measure breast cancer biomarkers, including insulin, glucose, and insulin resistance. In additional analyses they will determine whether muscles release factors that can affect breast cancer risk and whether effects of exercise vary by weight status (normal-weight versus overweight/obese).

This study is unique because it focuses on the acute effects of exercise on biomarkers of breast cancer risk. If acute exercise significantly alters these biomarkers, this result could help support guidelines for daily exercise for breast cancer prevention and could indicate that exercise even without weight loss is beneficial.


Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD is a Full Member at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Research Professor at the University of Washington Schools of Medicine and Public Health in Seattle. Dr. McTiernan’s research focuses on identifying ways to prevent new or recurrent breast cancer with physical activity, obesity prevention and treatment, and chemoprevention. She is Principal Investigator of several clinical trials and cohort studies investigating the associations among exercise, diet, weight, hormones, chemoprevention agents, and risk for breast cancer incidence and prognosis. She was PI of the National Cancer Institute funded Seattle Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer program that investigated obesity prevention and mechanisms linking overweight, obesity and sedentary lifestyles with breast cancer.

Dr. McTiernan is an elected Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine, the Obesity Society, and the American College of Epidemiology. She has published more than 350 scientific manuscripts in major medical journals and is lead author of the book, Breast Fitness (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). She is editor of two academic texts: Cancer Prevention and Management through Exercise and Weight Control (CRC Press LLL, 2005) and Physical Activity, Dietary Calorie Restriction, and Cancer (Springer; 2010).  She has served on national and international health advisory boards and working groups including the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the American Cancer Society, the US Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, the World Cancer Research Foundation, and the Komen for the Cure Scientific Advisory Council.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Mctiernan A

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Delta Air Lines Award

Area(s) of Focus