Top 10 Breast Cancer Prevention Methods
Dr Abdul Rahman Mohamad
Consultant Radiologist / Nuclear Medicine Physician
Majlis Kanser Nasional
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. Fortunately, it is not the most deadly (lung cancer is the most deadly cancer in women). A woman in Malaysia has a 1 in 19 chance of getting breast cancer in her lifetime. The risk is highest among Chinese women with a risk of 1 in 14, followed by Indian women at 1 in 15. The risk is lowest among Malay women at 1 in 24. Comparatively, this is much lower than 1 in 8 risks for women in developed countries.
While there are certain risk factors like genetics that we cannot change, there are many lifestyle changes we can make to aid in breast cancer prevention. Here we provide the top 10 breast cancer prevention methods.
1. Say “No” to alcohol
Studies have determined that women who drink alcoholic beverages develop cancer at a higher rate. Based on studies, ladies who consume 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk of women who don't consume alcohol. A glass of wine daily for example, increases the risk of breast cancer by about 7%. Thisincrease in risk seems to be independent of other risk factors such as race, weight, family history of breast cancer, the age period or menopause started, number of pregnancies, breast feeding, use of the contraceptive pill or HRT.
2. Quit smoking
Interestingly, smoking is not only related to lung cancer but also to breast cancer. Smoking at an early age can increase a woman's risk for breast cancer. Smoking is also related to heart disease. If you are a smoker, it makes all the sense for you to quit smoking.
3. Get physical and you will never go wrong
There are many studies that showed physical activity reduces the risk of many types of cancers including breast cancer. But getting physical does not mean you have to be Madonna (It was reported that she spent up to 4 hours daily on average in the gym and this is one of the factors for her divorce from Guy Richie). It is estimated that a woman who walked briskly 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week may reduce a woman's breast cancer risk by 18%.
4. Be aware of your family breast cancer history.
Scientists have isolated certain inherited faulty breast cancer genes such as BRCA1 , BRCA2 and TP53. They are thought to be responsible for breast cancer occurring among family members. If you carry either of these breast cancer genes your lifetime risk of getting breast cancer could be as much as 85 %.
If an immediate woman in your family has had breast cancer, it is important to let your doctor know. Genetic testing and counselling are available for those concerned with their risk. Keep in mind, that just because your mother or sister had breast cancer, it does not mean you will definitely develop breast cancer. Remember that most breast cancers happen by chance. Only about 5 out of every hundred are related to a known inherited breast cancer gene. The older you or your relatives are when diagnosed, the less likely it is that an inherited gene is the direct cause.
5. Avoid hormone replacement therapy if possible.
Hormone replacement therapy has been the mainstay of treatment for post-menopausal symptoms for many years. Now, studies have shown that there is a definite link between taking hormone replacement therapy for many years and breast cancer. This link suggests that combined HRT's (oestrogen and progesterone) raise the risk factors. It is estimated that there are 19 extra breast cancers diagnosed in every 1,000 women taking combined HRT for 10 years. However, five years after discontinuing HRT the risk factor returns to normal. If you need to take hormone replacement therapy, talk to your doctor about the risks and your personal condition.
6. Check your breasts every month.
This is perhaps the most important step you must do. Obviously, checking your breasts every month may not reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, but it may help detect breast cancer early. The earlier breast cancer is found, the less aggressive the treatment is and the breast may be spared.
Learn how to do self breast examination correctly. A good site to learn proper breast self examination is http://www.thefamilygp.com/thefamilygp_tv.aspx?cid=2&vid=iLyROoaftXAu
The objective of self breast examination is to know the feel of your own breast. It should be done once a month. The method involves inspection - looking for changes in the breast and palpation - looking for lumps and nodes.
Make Self Breast Examinations a regular part of your life!
As each woman's breasts are unique, getting to know your own breasts would allow you to be able to pick up changes the earliest! This won't happen overnight, therefore practising regularly monthly self breast examination is your best bet!
Note that 60% of breast cancer occurs in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. 70% of breast cancers are found by the patients themselves and 90% of breast lumps are not cancer.
7. Go for low fat diet.
We know that oestrogen plays a major role in the development of breast cancer and fat tissue contains small amounts of oestrogen. Thus being obese increases your risk of breast cancer.
However, if you are overweight before you've had your menopause, your risk of breast cancer is lower than average. But if you are overweight after menopause, your risk of breast cancer is higher than average. This is because women who are overweight ovulate less than average. So their breast cells may be exposed to lower levels of oestrogen. But once you are post-menopausal, your oestrogen levels are linked to the amount of body fat you have. The more fat, the higher your oestrogen levels are likely to be.
8. Don't forget to get your annual mammogram - it's not a choice.
Like the breast self exam, a mammogram won't prevent the development of breast cancer, but it can detect cancer. If you do regular breast self examination, by the time you can feel a lump with your fingers, it is at least 2cm in size. A mammogram can detect breast lump as small as 5mm or even earlier at the stage of micro-calcification. Micro-calcifications are calcium deposits that are less than 1mm in size. A lump is not the only way breast cancer shows up on mammograms. Mammograms can detect fine cancerous calcifications which cannot be felt with our hands.
Undergoing mammography procedure is simple. There is no fasting required. You should also avoid deodorant or powder on the chest as these may cause artifacts on the films. You will need to time it in the week after menses when the breasts are less tender.
Mammograms are performed by a female radiographer. So there is no reason to feel embarrassed. During the examination, 2 images are taken for each breast. Compression is uncomfortable but doesn’t hurt. It only lasts for a few seconds.
When should you go for a mammogram?
The present guidelines for screening of asymptomatic women (women who do not have any symptoms related to the breast) are:
9. Have children earlier in life, if possible
Having children at a young age decreases a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Early pregnancy increases the amount of p53 suppressor protein, which appears to provide protection against breast cancer. In addition, pregnancy involves an interruption of menstrual cycles, which is thought to provide protection against both breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
10. Consider breastfeeding instead of formula feeding.
Researchers believe that the months without a period during pregnancy and breast feeding may reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer. This accompanies the data that suggests that early menopause lowers the risk factor, as well.
Breast cancer is not a death sentence. With better cancer detection and more effective treatments, the prognosis is good. But Breast Cancer May Be A Death Sentence Due To Neglect.