Reduce breast cancer risk with these 7 lifestyle changes

Published on: 17 January 2022, 11:56 am IST

Cutting breast cancer risk is the first step women need to take when startling facts related to the disease are coming to the fore. Here are some tips.

cancer myths
Come, let's tell you some myths and facts about cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Cancer ranks as a leading cause of death and a significant barrier to increasing life expectancy in every country. In women, breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death.

Breast cancer statistics

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685,000 deaths globally. Towards the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer.

Globally, breast cancer accounted for 2.08 million out of 18.08 million new cases of cancer in 2018, and 626,679, or 6.6 percent out of 9.55 cancer-related deaths. One in twenty-eight Indian women is likely to develop breast cancer during her lifetime. It is more (1 in 22) for urban women than the rural group (1 in 60).

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer develops when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. Breast cancer arises in the lining cells (epithelium) of the ducts or lobules in the breast’s glandular tissue. Primarily, the cancerous growth is confined to the duct or lobule, where it generally causes no symptoms, but it can spread to other parts of the body, which is called metastasis.

It is also more widespread in the younger age group. Almost 50 percent of all cases are in the age group of 25-50. The survival rates of breast cancer in India are low because the detection takes place later. Breast cancer is curable, and chances of survival are higher if it’s detected in time. The only way to do so is by being aware of how it can be detected, and early diagnosis can be made.

breast cancer prevention
Prevention is better than cure. Image courtesy: Kantor Tegalsari from the Noun Project (via Creative Commons)

Can healthy living prevent breast cancer?

Even though there is no proof that healthier living can prevent breast cancer, it is believed that decreasing your exposure to harmful things and increasing healthier practices may lower the risks. Certain facets increase the risk of breast cancer, including obesity, overconsumption of alcohol, family
history of breast cancer, gene mutation, reproductive history (age that menstrual cycle began and age at first pregnancy), tobacco use, and postmenopausal hormone therapy.

In addition, lifestyle factors including infection, stress, lack of physical activity, etc., also contribute to the development of breast cancer.

Apart from taking reasonable steps to identify breast cancer using diagnostic tools like mammograms, you can adopt a few lifestyle changes to keep your health strong and reduce your risk for breast cancer.

mammography breast cancer
Make mammography. an important part of your health screenings. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Lifestyle changes you can make for reducing breast cancer risk:

1. Chill on liquor

Drinking alcohol is tightly linked with breast cancer. If you usually drink every day, make some evenings alcohol-free as it is found that women who consume alcohol frequently have a higher risk of developing breast cancer

2. Definitely quit smoking

Tobacco is one of the major factors leading to a variety of cancers, including breast cancer. It is found that women smokers face a much greater risk of breast cancer. For those who start smoking before their first pregnancy and continue for more than 20 years, the risk is 35 percent greater than in women who never smoked

3. Make exercise your best friend

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your health and lower your risk for breast cancer. To obtain these health benefits you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. If you’re new to exercise or haven’t been active in a while, start slowly and work your way up to longer sessions. People who are more physically active have a reduced risk of breast cancer, as well as other cancers and diseases,
such as heart disease and osteoporosis.

exercise for breast cancer prevention
Include exercise in your daily regime. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

4. Eat a healthy diet

Eating healthy improves your chances against breast cancer. You are advised to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Try taking food that are rich in antioxidants. The foods highest in antioxidants are berries, goji berries, carrots, squash, pumpkin, beets, sweet potatoes walnuts, leafy greens, mushrooms, pomegranates and algae. Loading up on vitamin D can also help keep cancer risk at bay. Certain foods contain vitamin D, such as wild salmon and egg yolks. However, the sun is ultimately the most abundant source of vitamin D that one should take.

5. Maintain body weight, especially after menopause

One-way physical activity may protect against breast cancer is by reducing body fat, which is itself a risk factor for breast cancer and body fat is hard to lose after menopause. To lose weight, you need to either reduce caloric intake
or burn more calories.

weight and breast cancer
Watch your weight. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

6. Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding not only reduces your chances for developing cancer but also your
child’s. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, women shed breast tissues. This shedding can help remove cells with potential DNA damage, thus helping to reduce your chances of developing breast cancer. Breastfeeding also can help lower your ovarian cancer risk by preventing ovulation.

7. Don’t forget screening

Screening for breast cancer means looking for signs of breast cancer in all women even if they have no symptoms. The goal of screening is to catch cancers early. Early-stage cancers are easier to treat than later-stage cancers. Screening for breast cancer is done by mammography which is a special series of x-rays taken of the breast. Studies show that women who have routine mammograms have 10 to 25 percent less chance of dying of breast cancer than women who do not have mammograms.

Breast cancer prevention

The simplest way to breast cancer prevention is by being able to do a self-breast examination which every woman should be doing on a regular basis after they turn 30. Seeking medical attention at the first sign of a potential symptom allows for more successful treatment. Even though there is no proof that healthier living can prevent breast cancer, it is believed that decreasing your exposure to things that are harmful and increasing healthier practices may lower the risks.

The treatment of breast cancer has evolved over several decades to multidisciplinary management. Several team members are involved in the treatment of patients- surgical oncologist, medical oncologist,
radiation oncologist, palliative team, pathologist, radiologist, and nuclear medicine experts.

The treatment for the disease that has not spread outside the breast and armpits includes surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, hormonal therapy, and radiation sequenced in different ways for different patients based on several factors. So, we have access to all the treatment modalities in India in
this setting.

Several newer treatment options are available for those who present with a stage IV disease (spread outside the breast and armpits). With the improvement in understanding of disease biology and knowing that there are several different types of breast cancer, the treatment is individualized to achieve the best possible results, and the outcomes have improved in this setting.

Dr Vashisth Pankaj Maniar Dr Vashisth Pankaj Maniar

Dr Vashisth Pankaj Maniar Director and Consultant Medical Oncologist - Mumbai Oncocare Centre

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