October kicks off Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There are as many as 200,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed every year, and the disease claimed the lives of approximately 5,000 Canadian women in 2017. It is the most common type of cancer among Canadian women, and it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
While there’s no easy answer when it comes to avoiding breast cancer all together, there are certain precautions you can take to reduce your risk – and that first means knowing what the risk factors are. The two highest risk factors for breast cancer are age (while breast cancer can also occur in younger individuals, rates of breast cancer below the age of 40 are considered to be quite low) and gender. Unfortunately, these are two things that we cannot control. Other risk factors include weight, whether or not you drink alcohol, as well as a possible link to household chemicals.
When it comes to weight, research suggests that obesity increases the risk of breast cancer. Along with the potential risk of breast cancer, being obese also comes with an onslaught of other health problems, including the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, as well as cardiovascular disease – which then increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The best thing you can do to prevent breast cancer and the aforementioned heart-related problems is to make sure you’re eating healthy and staying physically fit, and all you need is 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day to reap the benefits. Something people may not be aware of is the fact that alcohol can also increase the risk of breast cancer. Wine (red wine, in particular) is a carcinogen that is sensitive for breast cancer, and even drinking a small amount can increase that risk. If you are going to consume alcohol, the Canadian Cancer Society says you should not drink more than one glass of wine per day. As for household chemicals, while there has not been any kind of scientific evidence to suggest that there is a direct link between them and breast cancer, some experts say that we should err on the side of caution and decrease our exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals used for household cleaning, as well as certain personal care products. Some harmful chemicals can also be found in the produce (fruits and vegetables) we buy at grocery stores. You can find more information from Dr. Ali Ghahary on pesticides and produce here.
To help prevent breast cancer further, it’s recommended that you do breast self-exams every 2 or 3 months. To make sure you’ve done a proper and complete breast self-exam, click here for HealthLink BC’s how-to guide which will teach you the steps. Because breast cancer can also affect men, they should not be excluded from doing this type of exam. Women should avoid doing a self-exam during their period, as breast tissue will tend to feel lumpier and fuller during that time. It’s also not uncommon for women to experience breast tenderness during their period. If you notice any changes with your breasts, such as lumps or bumps, or have nipple discharge, crusting, or thickening of the nipples or areolas, you should let your family physician know immediately. He or she will refer you for a breast cancer screening test known as a mammogram. In some cases, an ultrasound or MRI may also be ordered.