Titles and Affiliations

Professor of Epidemiology,
Public Health Sciences Division
University of Washington

Research area

Characterizing the effect of exercise and weight loss on markers of breast cancer risk in women of all body sizes and fitness levels.


Physical activity is associated with improved survival of breast cancer at any age, which may be due, in part, to its effects on weight. Dr. McTiernan and others have shown that weight loss has significant, long-term effects on biological factors linked to breast cancer risk. However, exercise may reduce risk in other ways beyond weight loss. Dr. McTiernan's work suggests that some of its biological effects are greatest in the hours after a workout. She is currently studying the acute effects of exercise on biomarkers of breast cancer risk in patients of varying body types and fitness levels, the results of which may be informative in assessing risk and developing prevention interventions. She and her team launched the first-ever clinical trial to test the immediate effects of exercise on markers related to breast cancer. If the markers are significantly altered, it could help support guidelines for daily exercise and breast cancer prevention—and it may indicate that exercise even without weight loss is beneficial. 

Progress Thus Far

Dr. McTiernan and her team launched the ACute Effects of Exercise in Women (ACE) trial. So far, 107 participants have been enrolled in the study and the team collected blood samples and muscle biopsies (in a small subset of participants) pre-and post-exercise to search for breast cancer biomarkers. They are also measuring markers related to inflammation and angiogenesis—both of which contribute to cancer progression—and will determine whether the effects differ between normal-weight and overweight/obese patients. Thus far, several proteins showed significant differences between the control and exercise groups, indicating that several breast cancer-relevant pathways are activated in response to an acute bout of exercise. 

What’s next

Data collection and analysis for the ACE trial will be completed in 2022. They added a test to measure irisin—a hormone released by muscle and fat tissue that may have anti-tumor properties—in stored blood once ACE accrual is complete. In addition, analysis will be underway to test the separate and combined effects of dietary weight loss and moderate exercise in 439 post-menopausal women with overweight/obesity, on irisin levels in stored blood from a completed weight loss trial. Analysis for this study will also be completed in 2022. 


If not for BCRF, we could not have discovered ways that exercise and weight loss can impact biology and help prevent breast cancer. – Dr. McTiernan


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 effects of exercise, diet, weight, hormones, and chemoprevention agents on 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 400 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).  Her memoir, Starved: A Nutrition Doctor’s Journey from Empty to Full (Central Recovery Press) was published in 2016. 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 Committees, the World Cancer Research Foundation, and the Komen for the Cure Scientific Advisory Council.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Play for P.I.N.K. Award

Areas of Focus