Breast cancer, the most common cancer in women is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women. In the U.S., the estimated new cases of invasive breast cancer expected to be diagnosed in 2017 are 252,710 in women and 2,470 in men and about 40,610 women are expected to die from it.
Breast cancer incidence rates are highest in women of non-Hispanic white origin, followed by African American and lowest in Asian/Pacific Islanders. Though incidence rates are lower (<40 per 100,000) in developing regions, survival rates are also much lower (<40%) because of lack of early diagnosis and treatment facilities.
Risk Factors: Most breast cancer subtypes are hormone-related, so disease progression (kinds of tumour) differs depending on menopausal status. Several life events that increase exposure to hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) also increase the risk of breast cancer such as: i) early menarche (before age 12); ii) late menopause (after age 55); iii) first pregnancy after age 30; and iv) not bearing children. Some other hormone related risk factors are: ionising radiation exposure (i.e. X-rays) to the chest during puberty (even at low doses) and combined hormone therapy (HT).
Breast cancer risk nearly doubles, if a first-degree relative i.e. mother, sister, daughter has been diagnosed with it. However, only about 5-10% of incidences can be linked to gene mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2) inherited from one’s mother or father. Most cases occur due to genetic mutations, as a result of aging process and diagnosed after age 50.
Lifestyle related risk factors are greater body fatness; adult weight gain; consumption of alcohol; bad eating habits; smoking; extended exposure to environmental toxins; avoidance of sunlight; and stress. Other lifestyle factors include personal decisions such as i) not bearing children; ii) taking birth control pills or shots or other hormone-releasing birth control implants (IUD, skin patch, vaginal ring); iii) becoming pregnant at later age; and iv) not breastfeeding.
11 Breast Cancer Prevention Tips
Prevention: Breast cancer prevention starts with understanding risk factors. Though, some risk factors, such as family history can’t be changed, you can reduce your risk greatly by taking steps towards changing personal behaviors and lifestyle habits:
- Maintain a healthy weight: Estrogen, which stimulates cell over-growth, is mostly produced by ovaries before menopause but after menopause ovaries stop producing this hormone and most of it comes from fat tissue. So, aim for maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life by balancing food intake with physical activity.
- Lead a physically active lifestyle: Physical activity, besides helping in maintaining a healthy weight, directly reduces risk of breast cancer by altering estrogen metabolism. Aim for at least 2-3 hours of moderate physical exercise (brisk walk) per week. Strength training exercises such as weight lifting, stretching and yoga are also beneficial.
- Eat a healthy, mostly plant-based diet: A whole food plant based balanced diet is the key to healthy weight management and protects against cancer and other chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Aim for 4-5 servings of a wide variety of anti-inflammatory, phyto-nutrients (i.e. antioxidants) rich plant foods such as vegetables and fruits. Over 300 studies show that a diet high (10 servings/day) in fruits and vegetables can dramatically lower the risk of breast cancer.
- Carotenoid: Carotenoids found in vegetables (leafy greens, carrots, and red peppers) and citrus fruits reduce the risk of even more aggressive types of breast cancer.
- Lycopene: This phyto-nutrient gives tomatoes, raspberries, goji berries, watermelon, red pepper, and grapefruits; their red colour and promotes breast health.
- Sulforaphane: Found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, this phyto-nutrient helps in preventing breast cancer.
- Eggplant; onions; apples, pears, peaches, strawberries; soy products; turmeric; green tea and vitamin D rich foods are also found beneficial in breast cancer prevention.
b. Choose whole grains: Eating more fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, beans, and legumes is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.
c. Limit saturated fat: Swap most of your saturated fat intake with plant-based fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, nut or seed butter, coconut oil and avocados.
d. Add omega-3 fatty acids rich foods such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring); flaxseeds and walnuts, these “good fats” are associated with reduced risk of breast cancer.
e. Avoid processed, sugar and fat rich junk foods and red meat
4. Manage stress and get adequate sleep: Chronic stress lowers immunity and increases risk of chronic diseases, including breast cancer. Manage your day-to-day stress with relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation. Also, shorter night sleep is associated with increased risk, so make sure you get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
5. Breastfeed your baby: Breastfeeding is essential for optimal development of baby, and provide multiple benefits to mothers including reduced risk of breast cancer. The longer (1½ -2 years) the breastfeeding, the greater will be the protection.
6. Limit Alcohol: More alcohol drinking is linked with greater risk of breast cancer. As even small amounts of alcohol increase the risk, research recommends limiting alcohol intake to less than 1 drink per day.
7. Say no to smoking: Besides increasing the risk of breast cancer, smoking is associated with increased risk of other chronic diseases. So, go smoke-free to improve your overall health and quality of life.
8. Limit hormone therapy: Hormone therapy is used to relieve symptoms of menopause but as it increases the risk, so limit its dose and duration by exploring other non-hormonal therapies and medication options to manage your post-menopausal symptoms.
9. Avoid exposure to environmental toxins and radiation: Opt for natural cleaning and personal hygiene products, to avoid exposure to chemicals that interfere with the normal functioning of body and can cause cancer. Also, ionising radiation exposure during medical-imaging (CT scans, PET scans, X-rays etc) can cause DNA mutations, so go for such tests only when these are absolutely necessary.
10. Be vigilant about screening: Early diagnosis, helps in treatment and improves survival rates. Be familiar with how your breasts look and feel normally, so that you can report any changes (a lump, swelling, irritation, skin change, crusting on the nipples) or unusual pain to your doctor, immediately.
11. Sunlight. Around the world, breast cancer is far more common in the cloudy regions of the world. Studies show that vitamin D from sun exposure is a powerful anti-cancer ingredient. A tan is good. A burn is bad.