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  • When it comes to the breast, prevention is best

    02 October 2019

    Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Australian women—with one in seven women developing breast cancer by their 85th birthday (1). But did you know in some cases it can be preventable?

    It has been estimated that 40 per cent of breast cancers in Australia can potentially be prevented simply by addressing the major modifiable risk factors for breast cancer—such as being overweight or obese, being physically inactive and drinking alcohol (2).

    It was estimated that in Australia in 2010 alcohol consumption was the cause of 830 breast cancers. In addition, being overweight or obese was linked to eight per cent of postmenopausal breast cancers (3, 4).

    So just how can you cut your breast cancer risk? 

    Here are our 5 top tips: 

    1. Limit your intake of alcohol or, better still, avoid it altogether. 
      Limit your intake by:
      • Having at least two alcohol free days every week
      • Consuming low-alcohol or no-alcohol beer or wine
      • Alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks
      • Diluting alcohol drinks—try a mimosa or white wine spritzer
        Alcohol is also high in kilojoules/calories and can contribute to weight gain. 
    2. Maintain a healthy weight by getting the balance right between what you eat and how physically active you are.
      • Aim for a waistline of less than 90 cm and a BMI less than 25. Work out your waist circumference and BMI here 
      • Eat a healthy balanced diet in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines
      • Eat according to your needs—be mindful of portion size and non-hungry eating 
      • Make it a priority not to gain more weight
    3. Limit high kilojoule, low nutrient foods (otherwise known as ‘junk food’) to a minimum as these foods can lead to weight gain. Junk foods include chips, chocolate, ice-cream, take-away foods, pastries etc. These foods can also impact other aspects of your health due to their high sugar, salt and/or saturated fat content. 
    4. Be physically active
      Being physically active has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer and can also help you maintain a healthy weight.
      Try to achieve on five or more days per week: 
      • One hour of moderate activity—such as brisk walking, medium paced swimming or cycling, OR
      • 30 minutes of vigorous activity—such as tennis, squash, netball, jogging, circuit training, aerobics, fast cycling. 
    5. Replace sugary drinks with water 
      Regular consumption of sugary drinks—e.g. soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, cordial and fruit juice etc—have been linked to overweight and obesity. Water is the best drink for your body—it is essentially free when you drink from the tap, contains no kilojoules and is the best fluid for hydration.
      To help you drink more water and add variety:
      • Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice
      • Pop ice cubes made from fruit into your glass of water
      • Keep a glass of water handy on your desk, or a bottle of water in your bag 
        If you enjoy a little fizz in your drink, try:
      • soda water or plain mineral water with fresh lemon or lime juice
      • soda water with cut up slices of fruit—like oranges and strawberries—or vegetables—like cucumber and/or mint leaves

    There are also non-modifiable risk factors for breast cancer risk, however, it is important to remember the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, the higher the chances of successful treatment.

    Women aged 50-74 are encouraged to have a free screening mammogram every two years through BreastScreen SA, while women of all ages are encouraged to be ‘breast aware’ by familiarising themselves with the normal look and feel of their breasts, and conducting self-checks regularly. If you notice any changes, see a doctor as soon as possible.

    October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so why not start a conversation and encourage action in your practice, workplace or community to save more women’s lives. 

    1.    Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Cancer in Australia 2019. Cancer series no. 119. Cat no. CAN 123. 2019, AIHW: Canberra. Report available at https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/8c9fcf52-0055-41a0-96d9-f81b0feb98cf/aihw-can-123.pdf.aspx?inline=true
    2.    Baade PD, Meng X, Sinclair C, Youl P. Estimating the future burden of cancers preventable by better diet and physical activity in Australia. Med J Aust 2012 Mar 19;196(5):337-40 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22432673.
    3.    Pandeya N, Wilson LF, Webb PM, Neale RE, Bain CJ, Whiteman DC. Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to the consumption of alcohol. Aust N Z J Public Health 2015 Oct;39(5):408-13 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26437723.
    4.    Kendall BJ, Wilson LF, Olsen CM, Webb PM, Neale RE, Bain CJ, et al. Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to overweight and obesity. Aust N Z J Public Health 2015 Oct;39(5):452-7 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26437731.

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