16 Mar 2017

10 things you can do to protect against breast cancer

One of the questions I’m asked most as a breast oncology consultant and oncoplastic surgeon is,

“What can do to protect myself against the breast cancer? Can I prevent it?”

The short answer is yes.

While breast cancer can happen to anyone, being equipped with the right information is key to helping to reduce your risk. I’ve already spoken in previous posts about holistic approaches to cancer care and good resources for prevention and treatment.

Regular GP check ups and screenings are imperative to ensuring early treatment, but there are actions you can do things you can do every day to protect yourself against breast cancer.

A good article on the Woman’s Day website listed 10 practical ways to protect yourself, which I’ll summarise for you now.

1. Self examinations

When asked the best method of prevention, I always first talk about breast self-examination. Regular self-checks allow you to become familiar with your breast tissue, which will mean you’re more likely to notice any changes as they occur.

A great campaign, #ManBoobs4Boobs, released a light-hearted and informative YouTube tutorial late last year on how best to self-check your breasts. Watch it below:

2. Regular mammograms

Regular mammograms are essential to the early detection of breast cancer. Mammogram technology has come a long way in recent years, with the ability to take sharper images, and 22% less radiation than traditional film mammography.

So please, if you’re due for a mammogram, or have noticed any new lumps and bumps in your breast tissue, schedule a mammogram as soon as possible.

3. Reduce your alcohol intake

While medical scientists continue to debate whether wine is good for the heart, when it comes to your breasts, research suggests that regular alcohol intake could raise your risks of developing breast cancer. For women especially, the way alcohol metabolises in your body can increase oestrogen levels, which in turn can increase your breast cancer risk.

4. Weigh up your lifestyle

A healthy diet will undoubtedly increase your wellbeing, regardless of your circumstances. Combine this with regular exercise and you’ll not only feel great, but lower your breast cancer risk too. This is because an increase in body fat can also mean that your body is storing extra oestrogen, a hormone that can stimulate tumour growth.

5. Know what’s available to you

Ask your GP about breast cancer preventative medication. While it’s not for everyone, some women are able to take selective oestrogen receptor modulators or aromatase inhibitors. Depending on your calculated breast cancer risk, it may be worth considering.

6. Become familiar with your family tree

If breast cancer runs in your family, your risk of developing breast cancer may be higher. However this research is dependant on so-called ‘breast cancer genes’ (BRCA1 or BRCA2). It’s worth sharing this information with your healthcare providers to ensure they are monitoring you at the appropriate level to your circumstances.

7. Don’t rely on your genes

Despite the above, the majority of breast caner diagnoses have no known family history of the disease. However even if your family doesn’t have a history of breast cancer, it’s important to flag with your GP any other cancers that have effected your family – including prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer or melanoma – as any of these may mean you are also predisposed to breast cancer.

Remember also that this counts for both sides of your family. Your maternal and paternal family history are equally important.

8. Quit smoking and get your friends to too

It’s globally acknowledged and accepted that smoking causes lung cancer. But did you know it increases your risk of developing other cancers as well? Studies have shown that people who have smoked for 10 years or more were at least 16% more likely to develop breast cancer than non-smokers.

Don’t smoke but your friends do? Recent research also suggests that long-term exposure to second hand smoke could also increase your risk so ask your friends and family not to smoke around you – or better yet, help them to quit.

9. Understand your options

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s important to know that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to your breast cancer treatment. It’s a common misconception that you’ll require a full mastectomy if you have breast cancer. While a full mastectomy remains an option for some cases, oncoplastic surgery has come a long way in recent years. Make an appointment with your specialist and ensure you go through all the options to find a treatment plan that’s right for you.

10. Get moving

Just 30 minutes of exercise five days a week can dramatically cut your breast cancer risk. Regular exercise not only helps to keep your weight in check (see point 4) but can also lower oestrogen levels and boost your immune system, which helps to prevent abnormal cells from growing and spreading in your body.

And, if you’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer, keep moving. Not only will this increase your physical wellbeing, but your mental state as well. The Chris O’Brien Lifehouse LivingRoom offers integrative medicine as part of its overall package of cancer care by guiding patients towards holistic, evidence-based practitioners with specific experience in treating cancer patients.

Learn more here.

If this article has raised any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with my caring staff today.