“How to reduce your risk of breast cancer”, Medically reviewed by;
With Breast Cancer, the line between a successful outcome and a fatal one lies in reducing possible risks and ensuring early diagnosis. This article will help you understand breast cancer better – the causes, risks, symptoms, and signs it presents. With this, you will know what to look out for and the changes to make so you can live a long, healthy life.
Normal cells – which are the building blocks of every life – multiply by a series of tightly regulated cell divisions so it doesn’t become a problem.
Cancers can occur in any cell and it is when cells start to multiply uncontrollably.
Breast cancer, Cervical cancer, and Ovarian cancer are three common malignancies that afflict women.
Breast cancer occurs when the cells of the breast divide uncontrollably and become unresponsive to regulatory mechanisms in the body.
It is the most common cancer affecting women in Nigeria, and a Study shows that it caused about 11,884 deaths in 2020 alone in the country.
What causes Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer occurs due to a permanent change in the DNA of a breast cell, this is known as mutation. The exact cause of these changes is unclear in most instances. However, certain factors like genetics, hormones, and cancer-causing agents are all involved. There is little we can do about some of these risk factors, they are called non-modifiable factors. The modifiable risk factors are the ones we can act on.
What are the risk factors of breast cancer?
Knowing what increases the risk of breast cancer is the first step in preventing the disease. They include;
● The Person’s age:
Although breast cancer can be found in all age groups, getting older puts you at a higher risk of developing the disease. Breast cancers are rare before 20 years and most cases are diagnosed after 50 years.
● The Sex:
The majority of breast cancer occurs in women, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Some men can have the disease too, but breast cancers in males account for just 1%.
● The Genetics and Family History:
Certain genes have been associated with breast cancer, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are common examples. Having first or second-degree relatives with the disease increases your risk of developing breast cancer.
Although the risk of breast cancer was formerly higher amongst white women and certain women of Jewish descent. The numbers of cases are presently on the rise in this region.
● Being Overweight or Obese:
Fat-rich diets and excess body fats can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. The reason is that excess body fats can be converted to estrogen- and estrogen fuels the growth of cancerous cells.
● Reduced Physical activity:
Studies have shown that a decline in your daily activity can increase the risk of you having breast cancer. Obesity is known to be a byproduct of a sedentary lifestyle.
● Reproductive history:
Women who did not give birth, or who started having children at an advanced age are also at increased risk of breast cancer.
● No history of Breastfeeding:
It has been found that the risk of breast cancer increases if (for specific reasons) you were unable to breastfeed. Breastfeeding offers some form of anti-estrogenic protection to nursing mothers, in addition to its nutritive value for the baby.
● Using Hormonal Contraceptives and Hormonal replacement therapy:
If you have used hormonal contraceptives for an extended period or had hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, the chances of you having breast cancer are relatively higher.
● Excessive consumption of Alcohol:
According to studies, drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk of breast cancer by up to 7%. The studies also show that taking more than one alcoholic drink a day puts you at increased risk.
Smoking or chewing tobacco also increases your risk of having breast cancer. Tobacco has been found to contain carcinogens – agents that can cause different cancers.
● Early onset of Menstruation and Late Menopause:
Seeing your menses early, combined with a delay in menopause is also a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
● Previous history of Breast Cancer or other Malignancies:
A previous history of cancer in one of your breasts puts the other breast at increased risk when compared to the general population. Breast cancer is also associated with other malignancies like cervical cancer, and ovarian cancer. Some non-cancerous breast diseases also increase your risk for breast cancer.
● A History of Exposure to Radiotherapy:
If you have been exposed to radiotherapy before on the chest, there is also an increased risk of developing breast cancer later on. The extent of exposure and duration of exposure are also important.
Now, the irony is that you may get diagnosed with breast cancer without any of these underlying factors, while others with known risks live cancer-free.
What are the symptoms of Breast Cancer?
The symptoms of breast cancer vary for different women. They include;
● A painless lump in the breast
● Breast swelling and other signs of inflammation
● Unequal breast size and shape.
● Nipple discharge that may be clear, creamy, or bloody
● A retracted nipple
These are late symptoms and also point to metastatic spread.
● When the breast has an orange-peel appearance
● Breast pain later on
● Enlarged neighboring lymph nodes
● An enlarged liver
● Collection of fluid within the abdomen.
How can you prevent Breast Cancer?
For the risk factors you can change, Experts advise you to do all you can to prevent the disease. Here are some proactive measures;
● Maintain a healthy weight:
Watch your weight and make sure you don’t store up morbid fats. Exercise regularly, eat healthy meals (more about this below), and get enough rest.
● Eat right:
Avoid fatty diets like food rich in meat, whole-fat dairy products (milk, cream, cheese), and processed sugars. Stack your meals with vegetables and fibers rich in legumes, fruits, whole grains, and dairy products containing enough calcium. These foods contain antioxidants that can prevent cancer. If you can, stick to a Mediterranean diet, and don’t forget to take enough fluids.
● Be physically active:
Being active and engaging in rewarding tasks help to keep you in shape and prevent deterioration. Studies show that engaging in energetic activities limits your risk of breast cancer.
● Reduce or stop Alcohol and Tobacco use:
Alcohol and tobacco are known carcinogenic agents, now will be a good time to cut down on them. You can discuss with your Healthcare provider to know how best to tackle the habits.
● Breastfeed if you can:
Studies show that breastfeeding your babies protects you against breast cancer. Adequate breastfeeding also provides your babies with enough nutrients for growth and protection against diseases – a win-win situation.
● Ask your doctor about birth control and hormone therapy:
Before using any contraceptive or hormone replacement therapy, discuss the risk with your healthcare provider, and find out if it is right for you.
● Genetic testing and counseling:
If there is a family history of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, breast cancer, or other cancers, it is advised to go for genetic testing. Regular mammogram screening after 40 years of age will also be beneficial.
● Breast self-examination:
Breast cancer early is easier to treat when it is detected early and the rate of survival is also higher in such instances. Breast self-examination (BSE) is a free and convenient system you can use on your own to regularly check for any signs of breast cancer.
The journey that unfolds after a breast cancer diagnosis is tough, especially if it comes at a late stage. However, by actively working towards prevention, in every possible way, you significantly enhance your odds of victory.
Let’s End Breast Cancer Together.