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How Can I Reduce My Breast Cancer Risk?

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s is important to learn how to be pro-active in reducing your risk and what factors increase the prevalence of breast cancer.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women worldwide, with over 2 million new cases in 2018. Approximately one in eight women worldwide will develop breast cancer during her life and breast cancer is the first-leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

According to Dr Lise Alschuler, an oncology specialist and cancer survivor, many cancer patients feel a huge sense of frustration and anger as they are very compliant and aware of the choices needed to be made to prevent cancer, or the re-occurrence thereof, but they nonetheless get diagnosed with cancer. The question, “I thought I did everything right so why did I get cancer?”, often arises.

It is important to remember that nothing you do in and of itself can reduce your breast cancer risk down to zero. There are numerous factors that affect your risk for developing breast cancer. These factors include race, age, menopausal status, onset of puberty, environmental exposure to toxins, stress, sleep levels, genetics and sex hormone balance, nutrition and life-style: obesity, alcohol, exercise and dietary intake.

When it comes to breast cancer risk, size does matter. Statistics show that obesity levels are on the rise globally and if this trajectory continues, 50% of the global population will be overweight or obese by 2030. Studies show that over 500 000 new cancer cases per year can be attributed to a high Body Mass Index. The Breast Cancer Prevention P-1 trial which investigated 5854 premenopausal women, found that obesity was significantly associated to premenopausal cancer risk. Enlarged fat cells cause inflammation and oxidative damage to cells throughout the body. This chronic inflammation eventually leads to DNA damage, which in turn promotes cancer. These fat cells produce more oestrogen which then leads to an imbalance of oestrogen in the body which also results in an increased risk of breast cancer. Insulin-resistance, that accompanies obesity, increases the average level of insulin in the blood which in turn results in further abnormal effects in breast cell growth.

Convincing evidence shows that alcohol consumption is a risk factor for breast cancer, though, more evidence is needed to understand exactly how alcohol affects cancer risk. It is, however, suggested that regular intake of a moderate amount of alcohol can contribute to sex-hormone imbalance (oestrogen imbalance). It is recommended to limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one drink daily for women and two for men. One drink is equivalent to 1 tot of spirits and a 125ml of wine. Drinking may also lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as poor dietary intake and inactivity.

Exercise has a large impact on mood and wellbeing. Regular exercise at a moderate intensity reduces your cancer risk by 20–25%. Exercise helps with weight control, blood sugar control and a reduction in insulin levels. Exercise also helps to reduce stress levels. You should aim for at least 150 minutes per week; including exercises such as brisk walking, aerobics or water aerobics, swimming, cycling, dancing, gardening, moderate-intensity weight lifting and strength training.

Dietary Intake
More research in terms of the effect that diet has on decreasing breast cancer risk is needed as current research is still inconclusive. Looking at different studies that show the relationship between dietary intake and cancer, most point to the intake of specific fruit and vegetables reducing the risk of cancer. This is not surprising when one looks at the number of bioactive compounds found in fruit and vegetables. These bioactive compounds play an important role of ‘switching off’ genes that are involved in chronic inflammatory pathways and ‘switching on’ genes which are involved in anti-oxidant, anti-proliferation and detoxification pathways.
Other important dietary factors include:
– Increasing your fibre intake by consuming more beans, lentils and wholegrain products.
Limit foods with a high sugar content such as sugar-sweetened cold drinks, sweets and desserts
Decrease your saturated fat intake by eating a moderate amount of lean red meat, chicken, fish and plant-based protein sources. Limit your intake of processed food such as cold meats, sausages, brick margarine, hard yellow cheeses and cream.

Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer, but it is important to remember that by implementing certain life-style changes you can reduce your risk significantly.

Stay in tune for more insight on how genes can affect your cancer risk as well the low down on specific dietary components that can give a hand in reducing your risk.  

 Nourish yourself to the sunrise.

Written with love ,
Sunrise by HM

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