Someone is diagnosed with breast cancer every 10 minutes, but there are things you can do to protect yourself from the disease
Did you know that breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK? A whopping one in eight women will develop the disease in their lifetime. And while there’s no sure-fire way to prevent breast cancer, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your risk. Read on to discover the science-backed changes you can make today to slash your chances of getting the disease.
Need motivation to go to the gym? Research shows that women who work out for at least 10 hours a week have a 30 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to sedentary folk. “It’s not all about working up a sweat in the gym or heading out for a long run – aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day (or three and a half hours a week),” says Eluned Hughes, head of public health at Breast Cancer Now (breastcancernow.com). “This needn’t be done in one go – break it up throughout the day. It could be something as simple as walking to work, gardening or taking the family out for a bike ride. Any activity that makes you warmer, breathe harder and encourages your heart to beat faster counts.”
If you’re thinking about cutting back on alcohol, here’s another good reason to go dry – an increasing amount of research is showing that drinking less alcohol may lower the risk of cancer. “There isn’t a ‘safe’ alcohol limit when it comes to breast cancer risk,” says Eluned. “Even one drink a day can increase your risk, so limiting your intake is one of the best ways you can lower your chance of developing the disease.” Be mindful about the amount you drink. And if possible, opt for a couple of ‘dry’ days every week.
Aim to get your five a day of fruit and vegetables. Recent research led by researchers from America’s Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discovered that women who ate more than 5.5 portions of fruit and veggies had an 11 percent lower risk of breast cancer, especially of aggressive tumours, than those who didn’t pack in the good stuff. Cruciferous veg, such as broccoli and yellow and orange vegetables, were particularly significant when it came to lowering breast cancer risk. Try to get your fill of this healthy fodder by packing at least three-quarters of your plate with wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and pulses.
Women aged between 50 and 70 years are invited for NHS breast screening every three years to help spot breast cancers sooner.
“As you get older, your risk of breast cancer increases,” warns Eluned. “Evidence shows that routine breast screening can prevent women dying from breast cancer, and we therefore encourage all women to attend where possible.” There are risks to breast screening – for example, there’s a chance that a non-invasive breast cancer known as DCIS may be detected and you may receive treatment for a condition that wouldn’t have grown – but the potential benefits outweigh the risks. “Mammograms can help spot cancers earlier, but they can’t stop cancers developing,” adds Eluned. “It’s still important to check your breasts regularly, whether you go for breast screening or not.” Download the free Breast Check Now app to keep a record of your checks, and report anything unusual to a doctor.
Aside from being good for the environment, here’s another reason to scrap plastic – a study in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has linked exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to make hard plastics, to an increased risk of breast cancer. According to experts, BPA simulates the effects of the hormone oestrogen, which can then fuel some types of breast cancer. The evidence isn’t conclusive but it’s wise to minimise your plastic usage for this and a horde of eco-friendly reasons.
Downsizing on foods that aren’t healthy, such as sugar and processed meals, and having more of the good stuff, such as plant-based dinners, could help prevent several diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. “Most cases of breast cancer occur in women who have been through the menopause,” explains Eluned. “By maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life, you can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer after the menopause. The more weight you gain throughout your life, the higher your risk of developing breast cancer will be after the menopause.” Further research shows that meat or fish cooked at high temperatures, as is the case when grilled, pan-fried or barbecued, may produce heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are carcinogens that can damage human DNA. Try to limit your intake of these foods where possible.
“Around 40 percent of all cancer cases are preventable,” says Deborah Hyde, press manager at World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). “After not smoking, and eating a healthy diet, being more active each day and maintaining a healthy weight are the most important ways you can reduce your cancer risk.” However, if you’re a new mum, and are able to, the WCRF also outlines the many benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding lowers the levels of some cancer-related hormones in the body and gets rid of any cells in the breasts that may have DNA damage. Plus, it’s good for baby.