Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, and affects some 46,000 people in Britain every year. Though some factors, such as family history and age, cannot be changed, there are ways in which you may be able to reduce your risk of developing the disease.
Cut back on booze
Alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer, and it's not just heavy drinkers who are at greater risk. According to Cancer Research UK, regularly drinking a pint or a large glass of wine a day, just three units, increases the risk. Furthermore, the UK Million Women Study found that for every extra unit of alcohol consumed each day, the risk increased by around seven to 12 per cent.
Healthy eating and exercise are vital for general health and wellbeing, and your diet and weight can put you at greater risk of developing breast cancer. According to Cancer Research, an overview of 45 studies revealed that women with a diet high in saturated fats doubled their risk of the disease. On the flip side, a 2002 study found that women with a soya-rich diet had less dense breast tissue, associated with a reduce risk of breast cancer. Obesity also contributed to a greater risk, especially for post-menopausal women, due to the higher levels of oestrogen produced. Being overweight is also thought to increase the risk of breast cancer returning in those who have already had the disease.
A recent analysis of 37 studies representing more than four million women revealed that practising sport for more than an hour a day significantly reduces the risk of contracting breast cancer. The report by French researcher Professor Mathieu Boniol showed that an hour's heart-pumping activity each day reduced the risk of developing the disease by 12 per cent compared to the least active women.
Having a family
Breastcancer.org reports that women who have not had a full-term pregnancy, or had their first child after the age of 30, have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who gave birth in their 20s. Studies have also shown that breastfeeding reduces the risk of developing the disease. It is thought that this is because women ovulate less regularly while breastfeeding, and it helps to maintain stable levels of oestrogen.
Research has pointed to a strong link between the use of hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer development. A 2003 study by Cancer Research showed that HRT increased the risk throughout the duration of the treatment, and for up to five years afterwards. A further study in 2011 estimated that slightly more than three out of every 100 breast cancers in women were linked to HRT use, and three out of four of those were associated with combined oestrogen and progesterone variety. Though HRT can benefit menopausal women, it is worth discussing the risks and alternatives with your doctor.
Lastly, as with most cancers, early diagnosis is key to successful treatment, so it is essential that you check your breasts regularly. For information on how to check correctly, and what to look out for, visit www.breastcancer.org.