BREAST RISK? CANCER
ARE YOU LOWERING YOUR
In recent years, India has witnessed an increasing number of breast cancer cases, making prevention of breast cancer a top health priority. In 2016 alone, about 1.45 lakh Indian women were newly diagnosed with the disease, making it one of the leading cancers that afflicts women in our country. Some risk factors for breast cancer are difficult to control, like age, having dense breast tissue, being previously diagnosed with a noncancerous breast disease, having a family history of cancer or being born with a genetic predisposition to cancer.
However, despite the risk factors, it is estimated that one-fifth to one-third of all breast cancers can be prevented with simple, daily measures. Here is how:
Less is more: Being overweight/obese or suddenly gaining weight is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause. So, do your best to stay within a healthy weight range, depending on your height and keep your body mass index (BMI) less than 23 kg/m2.
Get moving: Being physically active and exercising regularly are linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. Make sure you do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise such as walking at about 5 km/hour, bicycling at less than 16 km/hour, light dancing or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, running, jumping rope, aerobic dancing or hiking at least once in a week.
Proper sleep: Set your alarm clock for at least 7 hours from the time you fall asleep. Lack of sufficient sleep during the night can increase your risk.
Look before you eat: Eat sufficient fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, low-fat dairy and lean meats and cut down on fat. Limited data suggest that eating non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, cabbage, cucumber and lettuce can lower the risk of developing a certain type of breast cancer that is rare but hard to treat. Diets high in calcium and carotenoids (apricots, carrots, spinach) may also help lower the risk of breast cancers.
Kick and quit: Smoking and drinking are linked to a number of diseases and there is increasing evidence that they may increase the risk of breast cancer. Alcohol and tobacco can work together to damage cells in the body.
Breastfeeding helps: Breastfeed your babies for as long as possible. It is not only beneficial for the little ones, but also helps to lower your risk of breast cancer.
High risk, radical remedies
A few years ago, everyone took notice when a celebrity underwent
a risk-reducing mastectomy (removal of breasts) to lower her breast cancer risk. Such measures are extreme and only recommended for a few women at a high risk of breast cancer. Another option called “ovarian ablation” refers to treatment or surgery to reduce estrogen production by the ovaries. Some prescription medicines can also help reduce the risk. All these options come with their own sideeffects and are therefore only recommended for a few, high-risk patients.
Scientists and researchers across the world continue to invest several hours and millions of dollars researching different aspects of breast cancer, including other factors that may be linked to the development of this disease, so that we can better prevent it. For example, a recently concluded study that was carried out over 14 years with more than 1 million people indicated that women who were being treated with statins (for high cholesterol levels) had lower rates of breast cancer and death related to breast cancer. This certainly does not mean that everyone should start taking statins – but perhaps it will guide research and prevention measures in the future.
Preventing breast cancer involves lifestyle changes and a life time of healthy choices which are well worth your efforts.
Dr. Sankar Srinivasan Oncologist, Apollo Cancer Institute, Chennai.