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A Comprehensive Guide on Reducing Your Risk of Breast Cancer

How can I reduce my risk of breast cancer?


Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers globally. In 2020, more than twenty-two lakh people were diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide. In India, the number of women getting breast cancer is more than one lakh yearly. The number keeps on increasing year after year. No one can predict the exact cause of breast cancer. There is no one thing that we can do and prevent its occurrence. Sometimes breast cancer can be due to faulty genes or family history. You cannot moderate or control these factors. But some lifestyle changes can lower our risk of getting breast cancer. Let us understand these healthy habits in detail. But before that, let us discuss the causes of breast cancer briefly. 


What can be the cause of breast cancer?


Breast cancer develops in breast tissues due to abnormal changes in breast cells caused by changes or mutations in DNA. These changes result in abnormal cell growth and division. These abnormal cells accumulate, developing a lump or malignant breast mass.


Our immune system can take care of these cells if the number is less. But once the growth of abnormal cells becomes huge or cells metastasize, it is difficult to contain them. The critical thing to understand here is if the breast cancer spreads to other parts, the malignant tumor it causes is also called breast cancer.


We cannot predict the exact triggers for these DNA changes. Two people may have similar exposure to a risk factor, but only one might develop cancer. 


Risk factors for breast cancer


First, we will go through the factors that are beyond our control, such as:


1. Age: It is one of the most significant risk factors for breast cancer.  According to the American Cancer Society, most breast cancer cases are diagnosed over 55 years.


2. Gender: Females have a higher chance of getting breast cancer than males. Only one percent of all breast cancer cases are males.


3. Heredity: - An inherited gene mutation can increase your risk of getting breast cancer. Approximately five to ten percent of cases are due to hereditary mutations. Some of the common inherited gene mutations that can increase your risk of breast cancer are:

  • BRCA1 
  • BRCA2 
  • PALB2
  • PTEN
  • TP53
  • ATM
  • CDH1


4. Family history: If you have several first-degree relatives with breast cancer, the probability of you getting breast cancer also increases. A first-degree relative can be your parent, child, or sibling. The relationship between family history and breast cancer is more than just genetics. It may be due to similar lifestyle choices or exposure to similar environmental factors like chemicals, air pollution, or water pollution. 


5. Menstruation and menopause: Any aberration in your menstrual phase can significantly increase the chances of getting ER-positive breast cancer.  A woman who began menstruating at a younger age or had menopause later than usual is at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. It is due to increased exposure to hormones like estrogen and progesterone in the breast cells. That is why females who do not give birth are also at higher risk of getting breast cancer. Some factors can we can manage and reduce our chances of getting breast cancer, such as:


6. Excessive alcohol consumption: The more alcohol you consume, the greater your risk of breast cancer.  According to the National Library of Medicine, alcohol is a known carcinogen. Even a drink a day can pose a severe risk to women. 


7. Overweight:  - Obesity can significantly increase your risk of getting cancer. If your weight is healthy, work to maintain that it. If you have excess body weight, talk to an expert to reduce it. Rather than reducing your diet abruptly, reduce your calorie intake gradually while increasing the amount of exercise. 


8. Sedentary lifestyle: A person who is couch potato has more chances of breast cancer than an active person. An active lifestyle is a key to a healthy body weight. A healthy body weight can decrease your risk for breast cancer. According to various studies, at least one fifty minutes of moderate workout weekly is essential to keep yourself healthy. If you exercise vigorously, then aim for seventy-five minutes a week. You can supplement your exercise with strength training at least twice a week. 


9. Abstain Breastfeeding: In today's fast-moving world, many women refrain from breastfeeding for personal or professional reasons. Breastfeeding not only keeps your child healthy, but it can also help in breast cancer prevention. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the more protective effect she gains.


10. Postmenopausal hormone therapy: Combination postmenopausal hormone therapy can increase your risk of breast cancer. It is always better to consult with your doctor before taking hormonal therapy. Maybe you can manage your symptoms with alternative medications. 


How can diet modifications reduce my risk of getting cancer?


A healthy diet is critical for a healthy you. A healthy diet not only decreases the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart conditions, and stroke, but your diet can also reduce the chances of getting breast cancer.


According to various studies, a Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts can reap significant benefits in the future. Mediterranean diet constitutes plant-based foods including but not limited to whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. It also includes choosing healthy fats (like olive oil) over butter and eating fish in place of red meat. Mediterranean diet helps maintain a healthy weight, a critical element of your breast cancer prevention regimen.


Birth control pills and breast cancer


Some studies suggest that hormonal contraception techniques (birth control pills and hormone-releasing intra-uterine devices) may increase the risk of breast cancer. However, this risk is small and decreases after the cessation of hormonal contraceptive usage. 


So always discuss your contraceptive options with your healthcare provider and evaluate the risk-reward ratio. Some of the potential benefits of hormonal contraception techniques are:

  • Reduced menstrual bleeding
  • Prevent unwanted pregnancy
  • Reduced the risk of cancers like endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer.


The conclusion


Though some risk factors of breast cancer are beyond our control, healthy lifestyle choices can make a significant difference. But this is not enough. Educate yourself and be vigilant about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. 


Do regular breast self-examination. If you notice any abnormalities in your breasts (a new lump or skin changes), consult your healthcare provider immediately. You can also go for regular screening tests like mammography to detect cancer in its early stage.

Dr Rajeev Agarwal
Cancer Care
Meet The Doctor
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