“How to reduce the risk of breast cancer” is written to create awareness for breast cancer in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2021. I am here to spread the word. Let us wear a pink ribbon during October and see what we can do to be part of the campaign – National Breast Cancer Foundation.
According to WHO, in 2020 alone, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685,000 deaths globally. This dreaded disease is very common in women worldwide and the second most common cancer overall. In Malaysia, an estimated 1 in 19 women in the country is at risk compared to 1 to 8 women in Europe and United States. Chinese women (59.7 per 100,000) have the highest risk compared to the other two races i.e Indian (55.8 per 100,000) and Malays (33.9 per 100,000).
By seeing and hearing about these numbers, will scare us all. So, what is it telling us? Better we prepare ourselves, to understand how it happens and how to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Oh, does breastfeeding helps? Let’s find out!
First, we must understand how breast cancer happens in our bodies. In a layman term, it is an abnormal cell grow lining the breast duct, which is the channel in the breast that carry breast milk to the nipple.
Gender & Age
The female gender is the major risk factor and women who are above 40 – 60 years old are at risk. According to WHO, half of the women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors other than their gender (female) and age (above 40 years old). Therefore, the female gender is the strongest risk factor. It can happen to men but it is a rare case (less than 1% of cases).
Research is showing that drinking alcohol is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Compared to women who don’t drink alcohol, women who have 3 drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer. Consider cutting back your alcohol consumption completely or reduce to only 1-2 drinks per week can help to reduce it.
Smoking is another poor lifestyle that is associated with cancer-causing factors not only breast cancer but other cancers as well. Research done in 2011 on the association of active and passive smoking with risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women, showed the highest breast cancer risk was found among women who had smoked for ≥50 years (with high intensity and long duration) compared with all lifetime non-smokers.
Obesity or unhealthy eating habits can be one of the risk factors for breast cancer. Many studies have shown that high BMI is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Obesity is one of the risk factors for men who are getting breast cancer.
Breast cancer can run in families. Your risk is higher if you have a family health history related to breast cancer or other cancers. About 10% of breast cancers are caused by the inheritance of damaging genes. Here are the general rules from CDC if you have a family health history like this, you shall consider having genetic testing or regular screening for breast cancer:
- Multiple breast cancers on one side of your family, at least one was diagnosed before age 50.
- Both breast cancer and ovary cancer in one of your relatives.
- Primary breast cancers of both breasts.
- Three of more relatives from the same side of family with breast or high grade prostate cancer at any age.
- Male relative that has breast cancer
Family history of breast cancer increases the risk of breast cancer, but the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a known family history of the disease.
There are other factors such as radiation, hormone replacement therapy after menopause that may contribute to the slightly increased risk of breast cancer. Some studies also showed that women who use oral contraceptives have a greater risk than women who have never used them. Women shall seek medical advice on these risk factors with their doctors and look for other safe alternatives.
How to reduce the risk of breast cancer
WHO suggested breastfeeding your newborn for at least 6 months. Tons of benefits of breastfeeding to the mother and child. Prolong breastfeeding, having multiple pregnancies, and becoming pregnant at an early age reduces breast cancer risk. This is because when women breastfeed their babies their estrogen level reduces. Estrogen can promote breast cancer cell growth.
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, women can shed some breast tissue and the shedding will help to remove the potential DNA damaging tissue, hence reducing the possibility of breast cancer risk.
One study concluded that having more children and breastfeeding longer (more than 12 months) could reduce the risk of breast cancer. This group of nursing moms is at a 28% lower risk of breast cancer than those who never breastfeed their child.
See how powerful breastfeeding is to the mother! If you have struggled with breastfeeding, talk to an experienced midwife and lactation consultant to help you.
Eat healthy foods and control your body’s BMI will not guarantee us from cancer-free but it will help to boost our immune system and our body will not become susceptible to illnesses like cancer. According to American Institute for Cancer Research, there is evidence to show regular exercise, weight control and diet are able to reduce the risk of breast cancer. There is strong evidence to show diet which contains the following will help to reduce breast cancer risk:
- Non starchy vegetables
- Food contain carotenoids
- Dairy products
- High calcium food
In a conclusion, healthy food intake and weight control are generally helping us to stay away from any illnesses not only breast cancer. Therefore, start now if you have not done so.
Alcohol intake is another risk factor. So cutting down your alcohol consumption (beer, wine, or liquor) will be better for any disease prevention. If you really can’t ditch the habit, limit the intake. It will be good for overall general health and also preventing the onset of breast cancer.
Cigarette smokes are known to be hazardous to human and it is also linked to the highest risk of breast cancer in younger women. Knowing that smoking is very hard to break, so do not start if you don’t smoke. You need help and really strong courage to ditch it off.
Cigarette smokes contain more than seven thousand chemicals and some chemicals can mutate our DNA and cause many types of cancers- e.g lung, breast, cervix, and colon. In 2017, a cohort study has found that there is a significantly increased risk of breast cancer happened in women who started smoking since adolescence and it is a greater risk if they are having a family history of the disease.
Stay physically active
Obesity is linked to one of the risk factors for breast cancer. Why is that possible? Obese people often have a low level of inflammation, which over time can cause damage to the DNA and lead to cancer. Fat tissue in our body will produce excessive estrogen hormone which in a high level, is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, ovarian and other cancers as well.
Control our BMI through a healthy diet and regular exercise is greatly needed. Take at least 4-5 hours a week at a moderate intensity level like brisk walking will not only help us stay healthy but also stay away from diseases.
Radiation and other breast cancer risk
Some procedures involving high-dose radiation, hormone replacement therapy, and taking oral contraceptives are known to cause a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. Talk to your doctor for other safe alternatives and only do it when it is really necessary.