Breast cancer prevention

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think pink (c) The Sunday TelegraphMore than 11,000 Australian woman are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, making knowledge of how to prevent and survive the disease vital.

Here The Sunday Telegraph's body+soul section presents the bare facts about breast cancer: more than 11,000 women are diagnosed with it each year and, if all Australian women lived to the age of 75 years, one in 11 women would develop breast cancer before this age.

But having a healthy lifestyle and getting regular breast check-ups can save your life. So find out how to be a survivor. You're not too young to be at risk . Age is a risk factor for breast cancer - the older you get, the more your risk increases.

According to the government-funded National Breast Cancer Centre (NBCC), the average age of women diagnosed with breast cancer is 58. However, one-third of women diagnosed with breast cancer are younger than 50.

For that reason it's important for all women to be disease-savvy.

Watch the cocktails

Drinking too much alcohol will raise your breast cancer risk.

Researchers have reported a weak association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer in women who drink one alcoholic beverage a day, according to the Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors at Cornell University in the United States.

Drinking more - about two to five drinks per day - may be associated with a rate of breast cancer that is about 40 per cent higher than the rate for non-drinkers, say researchers.

Get physical

In one finding from the Women's Health Initiative (a major 15-year study of the health of postmenopausal women launched in 1991 in the US), as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours a week of brisk walking reduced a woman's risk by 18 per cent.

More is probably better.

Cut the fat in your diet

Being overweight has been found to be a breast cancer risk, especially for women after menopause. Studies have also found that breast cancer is less common in countries where the typical diet is low in animal fats.

Dr Eunyoung Cho, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, part of the Harvard University's medical school, found that there was a higher risk of breast cancer among women who ate foods rich in animal fat such as red meat, cheese, ice-cream and butter during their 20s, 30s and 40s.

Know your breasts

Finding breast cancer early means that you have more treatment options and your chances of survival are better, says Alison Evans, acting deputy director of the NBCC.

So be familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts. See your doctor with any unusual changes.

Be careful using hormones

The Pill comes with a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer, according to the NBCC.

But 10 years after stopping combined oral contraceptives, this increase is reduced back down to the level of a woman who has never used it.

Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause, particularly oestrogen and progesterone combined, also increases your risk of breast cancer, says the American Cancer Society.

Oestrogen alone does not appear to increase the risk.

Consider a mammogram

Women aged 50 to 69 are eligible for free twice-yearly mammographic screenings. The Cancer Council Australia says research has shown that screening mammography, especially in this age group, is currently the best method available for detecting breast cancer early.

Evans says that while women in the 40- to 50-year-old age group can have a mammogram twice-yearly if they want, there is less convincing evidence to show it is an effective screening method for younger women. "Breast tissue in younger women is quite dense and it is harder to see changes," she says.

Shop pink

You can help the breast cancer cause by shopping.

Many retailers, including GHD, Ralph Lauren, Filofax and Nine West, now donate part of the proceeds from some items to breast cancer treatment and research.

Twenty-five per cent of the proceeds from Ralph Lauren's Pink Pony logo T-shirts and tennis balls,for example, go to the NBCC.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation, a national, not-for-profit organisation, also aims to raise enough money to fund a cure for breast cancer.

Go to www.nbcf.org.au for a shopping list.

Complement your therapy

Despite what traditional medics say is lack of evidence for complementary therapies in relation to breast cancer survival, many women continue to experiment with nutritional therapy, meditation and other natural options.

Sydney-based naturopath and author Janella Purcell says women who undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatment often experience extreme fatigue, and natural therapies that address the health of the liver can be of assistance.

It is also very important for women to be on a very good, organic diet, that feeds the body essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants without chemicals or other artificial additives, she says.

According to Cornell University, research based on the Nurses Health Study reported that in a group of 1237 women whose breast cancer had not metastasised to the lymph nodes, the highest levels of vegetable consumption were significantly associated with as much as a 47 per cent decrease in the risk of death.

Supplements that may help during treatment include flaxseed oil and co-enzyme Q10. A patient's emotional state, especially a willingness to give more time to oneself, may also be important in recovery.

Drug advances

From October 1, the drug Herceptin was listedon the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for the treatment of patients with HER-2 positive early stage breast cancer. Previously, it was only subsidised for those with HER-2 positive advanced breast cancer. (About 20 per centof breast cancers are the HER-2 positive type.)

Herceptin attaches itself to the HER-2 proteins on the cancer cells, stopping their growth.

"Therapies like Herceptin improve our abilityto tailor treatment for individuals based on their specific type of breast cancer," says Dr Helen Zorbas, director of the NBCC.

The future of breast cancer treatment lies in drugs that hone in on specific cancer cells rather than taking a more scatter gun approach, adds Evans.

Getting help

  • National Breast Cancer Centre www.nbcc.org.au
  • National Breast Cancer Foundation www.nbcf.org.au
  • Breast Cancer Network Australia www.bcna.org.au
  • The Cancer Council Australia offers a helpline, the Cancer Information Service. Call 13 11 20 toll-free (the cost of a local call from anywhere in Australia) to be directed to the Cancer Information Service in your area.

source -  The Sunday Telegraph

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