Leading up to Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, BYY is publishing a series of articles from experts on the very important topic of breast cancer.
Survival rates of the disease vary worldwide and much of this variation is due to late detection. The later the detection, the later the stage of breast cancer and therefore the lower the survival rate, despite more intensive therapy.
Below are some steps that can be taken to minimise your risk of a late diagnosis. These suggestions should benefit women from as young as 20 years old.
Adjust your lifestyle
According to a recent study, there are four main lifestyle choices which could dramatically lower the risk of developing breast cancer.
These include maintaining a healthy weight, ascertaining risk when taking hormone therapy, not smoking and drastically minimising your alcohol intake.
Breast cancer risk is directly proportional to alcohol consumption. This has been known for a long time but it must be borne in mind that the relationship between alcohol and breast cancer is a very complex one.
There are different types of alcohol as there are various ingredients added to alcoholic beverages – both of which have to be taken into consideration.
Furthermore, the way alcohol is metabolised is genetically determined and highly individual; therefore, the part of the risk of breast cancer caused by alcohol consumption is not only dependent on the quantity consumed but also on the individual metabolism of alcohol.
We all know that alcohol consumption in large quantities is not good for you. But one should also work with the assumption that people are going to have an element of unhealthy living in their lifestyles – we are not all perfect.
So, the best choice is to stick to the safest path of moderation of a maximum of one glass of wine a day. It may increase your breast cancer risk, but it may also have some health benefits and less toxic repercussions than some of the other lifestyle vices such as smoking, which cannot even be considered safe in moderation.
Another important lifestyle consideration is maintaining a healthy weight. This can be achieved by staying active and being conscious about what you eat. Make sure you’re exercising at least 4 times per week for at least 30 minutes at your own pace. Better yet, try and move a little every day.
Take a look at your shopping list, does it read like a menu straight out of the Mediterranean? It should! Think leafy greens and lots of fresh vegetables, healthy fats such as nuts, fish and olive oil. Buy your food as close to source as possible and try not to cook all the nutrients out of it.
It’s crucial to remember that this type of lifestyle adjustment isn’t just about avoiding breast cancer. These 4 main lifestyle choices are relevant for everyone – male, female, young and old – it’s your ticket to a healthier, happier existence.
- Avoid hormone treatments
Hormone treatment over long periods may increase the risk of breast cancer. Studies have found that women have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer while they’re taking birth control pills that contain both Oestrogen and Progestin. If taking hormone treatments, try to use the lowest dose available and consult your health practitioner on alternate options. Later in life, if you want to consider HRT, talk to your doctor and weigh up the risks, that includes your family history, and also consider bio-identical instead of synthetic hormones.
Outside of the general health benefits breastfeeding provides for a baby, studies have shown that women who breastfeed in their early thirties are less at risk from breast cancer than those who avoid breastfeeding. In addition, a woman who breastfeeds for longer periods of time, until the child is two years old for example, is further reducing her risk of breast cancer. When a woman breastfeeds, she menstruates less which means she has less oestrogen levels in her system. By lowering oestrogen levels you are decreasing your risk of breast cancer.
- Have regular check-ups
Women from the ages of 20 to 39 should know their family history of breast cancer, schedule a yearly consultant with a professional with a special interest in breast health (including a breast examination) and should conduct breast self-examinations monthly. Women over 40 should know about the latest advance in breast cancer treatments and technologies, have an annual mammogram, clinical breast examination and conduct breast self-examinations monthly.
Source: World Cancer Research Fund International, Breast Cancer Statistics, http://www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/data-specific-cancers/breast-cancer-statistics
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