It’s no secret that our lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on our health and it’s no different when it comes to breast cancer; our daily habits are a key influence on our risk of developing the disease.
One in eight Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 85. It is the most common cancer diagnosed in Queensland women and the second highest cause of cancer-related deaths.
And while anyone can develop breast cancer, regardless of age or lifestyle factors, women aged between 50 and 74 are most at risk
However, there are simple choices we can make every day to help avoid this devastating disease.
Dr Deborah Pfeiffer, a senior medical officer with BreastScreen Queensland, says there are three major lifestyle factors associated with an increased risk of breast cancer: diet-induced obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and high alcohol intake.
“It’s never too late to improve your lifestyle habits,” as Dr Pfeiffer says. “Lose weight, cut back your drinking and become more active.”
Manage your weight
Obese or overweight women are more likely to develop cancer, which is why it’s imperative to maintain a healthy weight and diet.
Dr Pfeiffer says there’s a link between obesity and increased oestrogen levels, and those increased levels can contribute to the risk of breast cancer.
“Fat tissue stores and releases the female hormone oestrogen, which contributes to the growth of endometrial or uterine cancer, and to oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, with obese persons tending to have higher blood and tissue levels of oestrogen,” she explains.
“Losing weight, which is principally excess fat, assists in reducing insulin and oestrogen levels.”
Queensland Health offers information and support for women who’re keen to lead a healthier lifestyle.
BreastScreen Queensland recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity every day. It could be something as simple as a brisk walk, a yoga class, or laps in the pool.
If you find it difficult to get motivated, participate in group or team activities so you have someone with you to encourage you to get up and moving.
Reduce alcohol intake
Having more than one standard alcoholic drink per day can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer due to its impact on oestrogen levels and hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.
Studies have showed that compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15 per cent higher risk of breast cancer.
“The risk of alcohol-related cancers, mainly breast cancer, increases, even within the range of up to one alcoholic drink a day,” Dr Pfeiffer says.
Although lifestyle factors play a vital role in influencing your risk of developing breast cancer, the single most effective way to reduce your risk of a fatal breast cancer is with regular breast screens.
Queensland Health recommends women aged between 50 and 74 attend a breast screen once every two years.
Dr Pfeiffer says screen-detected cancers tend to have a more favourable outcome because they are often discovered at a much earlier stage than self-detected lumps.
“Until we know what causes breast cancer or how to prevent it, our best means of treating it is to detect it early,” she says.
You can book your free breast screen appointment online at www.breastscreen.qld.gov.au or by calling 13 20 50. No doctor’s referral is necessary.
Have you had a breast screen? Have you made any of these lifestyle changes over the years?