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Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Seattle, Washington

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 participants 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 ACute Effects of Exercise in Women (ACE) trial, the first-ever clinical trial to test the immediate effects of exercise on markers related to breast cancer in healthy women. 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 collected blood samples, muscle biopsies (in a small subset of participants) before and after exercise from 102 healthy participants. They found intriguing evidence that exercise changes muscle cell proteins involved in the regulation of genes that are important in breast cancer. They also measured markers related to inflammation and angiogenesis—both of which contribute to cancer progression—to assess the effects of exercise on these markers in normal-weight and overweight/obese women. The team recently launched ACE-2, studying the acute effects of exercise in women with breast cancer and are recruiting participants.

What’s next

Next, Dr. McTiernan and her team will continue statistical analyses to assess changes in blood measures of ACE-1 participants. They will recruit and screen participants for the ACE-2 trial. The ACE-2 participants will be randomly assigned to perform 45-minute acute exercise or to a control group. The team will then conduct similar analyses as in ACE-1 to determine the effect of exercise in women with breast cancer.


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

Lifestyle & Prevention