Breast Cancer and what you need to know


I was asked to speak at a large Pink Ribbon charity fund raising night last weekend on breast cancer prevention. I thought it would be great to share with you the information I covered in my talk to spread the word on early detection and how to reduce your risk of breast cancer through lifestyle changes.

When we think about how many people breast cancer affects in our community it’s actually quite surprising that most of us know of someone who have had it. Well, I shouldn’t say it’s surprising because it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst women in Australia. One out of every 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. If you think about it like that, it’s quite a staggering number.

This year alone it is predicted that 15,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia and men are not immune either. Although rare, breast cancer can also affect men, accounting for about 1% of cases. The good news is survival rate for women with breast cancer is about 89%. Which mean a majority of women have a good prognosis. This is mainly due to the implementation of regular breast cancer screening, resulting in earlier detection and improved treatment methods.

Finding breast cancer early greatly increases the chances of surviving the disease. Women who are diagnosed at an earlier stage generally have higher survival rates than women diagnosed with more advanced stages. Women aged 50 to 69 are advised to get screened every two years.

Breast cancer is a malignant tumour that originates in the cells of the breast. Cancer develops when cells grow abnormally and multiply. These abnormal cells develop into cancerous growths that can, in some cases, spread (metastasise) to other areas of the body. Most people relate the idea of finding lumps in the breast, and the development of cancer.

Although if you do find lumps in the breast, it doesn’t automatically make it cancer. Most breast lumps are benign, which means not cancerous. Benign lumps can be cysts (which are lumps or sacs filled with fluid or other material) or they can be due to normal breast changes associated with hormone changes or ageing. If you do notice a change or something unusual in one of your breasts, don’t ignore it or panic just see a doctor as soon as possible.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer, what you should look out for?

  • A lump or thickening of the breast.
  • A change in shape, crusting, a sore or ulcer, redness of the nipple.
  • Discharge from the nipple that is blood-stained or clear that happens without squeezing.
  • Changes in the skin of the breast, such as any or dimpling of the skin, and unusual redness.
  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • Unusual and persistent pain that is not related to the normal monthly cycle and occurs only in one breast.

What causes breast cancer?

The sole cause of breast cancer is unknown, but there are risk factors you should know about these include:

  • Increasing age
  • Family history – the inheritance of breast cancer genes BRCA2, BRCA1 and CHEK2
  • Exposure to female hormones such as the use of HRT (Hormone replacement therapy)
  • Obesity caused by poor diet and not enough exercise
  • Excess alcohol consumption

While most of us can do little to change the general risk factors due to age and genetics, a much more positive way to look at it is to concentrate on things that are in your control. To a certain extent we can be salves to our genetics, but genes can be influenced by the environment we live in. Take for example the lifestyle we live  in, is it relaxed, as opposed to stressed? How about the type of diet you follow; is it nutritious or a junk food diet?

Reduce your breast cancer risk by reducing alcohol

The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer is to reduce your alcohol intake. Limit your alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks a day. The type of alcohol you drink doesn’t make any difference; beer, wine and spirits all increase your risk of cancer, not only of breast cancer, but throat, neck and bowel cancer as well. Even at low intake, alcohol contains a lot of energy (kilojoules or calories) so it can easily contribute to weight gain. Which we also know isn’t good for your health. Maybe it’s time to kick the red wine and start drinking some tomato juice!

Reduce your risk of cancer by exercising daily

It’s time to pull out your sneakers and leggings and get out there ladies! Studies have shown that regular exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer. You don’t need to sweat it out either and you don’t need to go to the gym to get the benefits. Moderate exercise, like a brisk walk, can be enough to reduce your cancer risk and the more you do, the greater the benefits, not only to reduce your risk but reduce your waistline.

Physical activity regulates hormones such as insulin-like growth factor and oestrogen and affects the speed that food passes through the bowel, so it keeps your hormones in check and keeps you regular. Exercise can improve energy levels and feelings of wellbeing. In fact researchers have found that usually when someone exercises it has a flow on effect to their dietary patterns. People tend to choose healthier options so exercising can help increase your will power to say ‘no’ to cake. To reduce your cancer risk, the more physically active you are the better. Aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate activity every day.

Reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy body weight

Try to maintain a healthy weight throughout your life. Women who put on a lot of weight in adulthood, particularly after menopause, may have a higher risk of breast cancer. This is a real difficult one to do, no doubt almost everyone has done a diet before or are on a diet right now. The sad fact is the majority of the population are always constantly dieting to achieve a certain body weight.  There is evidence to show that we can be healthy at every size. I am not talking about morbidly obese, however being over weight is not bad for your health if you maintain a healthy diet and perform regular activity.

Let’s talk more about how to eat your self-sexy… Eating yourself sexy is providing your body with the right nutrients and caring for yourself by making good food choices that your body will feel good with. It’s not about restricting dieting.

Vegetables are a natural appetite suppressants that can make you feel full because of the fibre and they are highly nutritious. In fact vegetables like broccoli and other green cruciferous vegetables e.g. cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts have naturally occurring chemical compounds (antioxidants) which help eliminate free radicals, which are the compounds in the body that usually contribute to the development of cancerous cells.

Include omega-3 fats in your diet

I call it burn fat, with fat. Omega-3 fat is the fat we find in oily fish, nuts, seeds avocado and olive oil. Omega-3 are a powerful anti-inflammatory that maintains good DNA structure which stops the mutation and growth of cancerous cells. It also helps maintain good hair and skin.

Reduce your animal consumption

More specifically, reduce red meat consumption. Red meat has been linked with many cancers and heart disease. You don’t need to turn vegetarian just cutting back will be enough of an impact. Try to reduce red meat to 2 serves per week only. Fill the rest of the week with other high protein items like eggs, fish or chicken. You may want to experiment with some vegetarian options.Carbohydrates are very easy to over eat and if you don’t exercise regularly it can be a cause of weight gain. Try to choose your healthier carbs like Quinoa, wholegrain bread, wholemeal flour, basmati rice.

Monitor your ‘fun foods’

Notice how I didn’t say cut out your junk food? Let’s face it we all love cakes and the occasional treat and if you try to go without, it will back fire into a binge. The best way is to allow yourself 1-2 fun treats per week so you can still enjoy the foods you love without feeling deprived.

Even though breast cancer is prevalent in our society, doesn’t mean we have to sit back and do nothing. You can be proactive in how you care for your families and yourselves. If you wish to donate money to raise awareness and fund research for this cause please visit the Pink Ribbon website.


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