We hear so much about breast cancer these days. The occurrence of the disease is growing by the minute and many younger women are being diagnosed with this problem. Creating awareness on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer is as important as any other type of cancer.

Cancer, also called malignancy or neoplasm, is the uncontrollable abnormal growth of the body’s cells. Cancer that grows in the tissues of your breasts is known as breast cancer. 

Breast cancer mostly begins in the cells in the milk-producing ducts or in the lobules (glands that make milk). Risk factors of breast cancer are the main causative factors. Increasing prosperity and urbanization of our traditional lifestyles; in addition to a richer diet, smaller families, delayed childbearing, and reduced breastfeeding has driven breast cancer cases on a higher trajectory. The most common warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer include a new lump in your breast or underarm (armpit), thickening or swelling of a part of your breast and any change in the size or the shape of the breast.

Did you know that breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women in India and that a new case of breast cancer is detected every 7 minutes in India!

These numbers give us all the more reasons to spread awareness and make people aware of simple measures that can help prevent breast cancer. 

Here are 7 ways to prevent breast cancer:

1. Keep your weight in check. 

It’s easy to tune out because it gets said so often, but maintaining a healthy weight is an important goal for everyone. Being overweight can increase the risk of many different cancers, including breast cancer, especially after menopause. Menopause is the natural stopping of your monthly menstrual cycles, which onsets at the age between 45 and 55 years. 

One of the side-effects of menopause is sudden weight gain. Also, having more fat tissue can increase your chance of getting breast cancer by raising estrogen (the primary female sex hormone plays various roles in your body) levels. 

Tissues in your breasts actually produce small amounts of estrogen, and that’s why your breasts are also called a ‘secondary source’ of estrogen. High levels of estrogen in the body have been shown to be a risk factor for breast cancer.

2. Be physically active. 

Exercise is as close to a silver bullet for good health as there is, and women who are physically active for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer. Regular exercise is also one of the best ways to help keep weight in check.

Studies show that physical activity regulates hormones including estrogen and insulin (the hormone that allows your body to use glucose for energy), which can act as a fuel to enhance breast cancer cell growth. Regular exercise also keeps your immune system healthier and can prevent breast cancer.

3. Eat your fruits and vegetables and avoid too much alcohol.

A healthy diet can help lower the risk of breast cancer. Try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Studies show that women who ate more than 5.5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day had an 11% lower risk of breast cancer than those who ate 2.5 or fewer servings. 

Certain fruits and vegetables are known to kill cancer cells, such as:

  • Leafy green vegetables contain carotenoid antioxidants, including beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, higher blood levels of which are associated with reduced breast cancer risk.

  • Citrus fruits are rich in folate, vitamin C, and carotenoid that may protect you from breast cancer cells. Citrus fruits include oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, and tangerines.

  • Fruits, specifically peaches, apples, and pears have polyphenol antioxidants that inhibit the growth and spread of breast cancer cells.

Keep alcohol at moderate levels or lower. Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with breast cancer. 

While moderate drinking can be good for the heart but in older women, even low levels of intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. If you don’t drink, then don’t feel the need to start. If you drink moderately, there’s likely no reason to stop. But, if you drink more, you should cut down or quit.

4. Quit smoking. 

Smokers and non-smokers alike know how unhealthy smoking is. On top of lowering the quality of life and increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and at least 15 cancers – including breast cancer – it also causes smelly breath, bad teeth, and wrinkles. Now that’s motivation to stay smoke-free or work to get smoke-free.

Studies from cancer societies state that chronic, heavy smoking is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, especially in women who have not yet had a full-term pregnancy. 

5. Breastfeed, if possible. 

Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the feeding of babies and young children with milk from a woman's breast. Breastfeeding for a total of one year or more (combined for all children) lowers the risk of breast cancer. It also has great health benefits for the child.

When you breastfeed, your exposure to hormones such as estrogen reduces, which is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

6. Avoid birth control pills, particularly after age 35 or if you smoke.

Birth control pills, also called oral contraceptives, are medications you take by mouth to prevent pregnancy. Birth control pills have both risks and benefits. The younger a woman is, the lower the risks are. 

Women on birth control pills have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. This risk goes away quickly, though, after stopping the pill. The risk of stroke and heart attack is also increased while on the pill – particularly if a woman smokes. 

Studies show that using high-dose estrogen birth control pills is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger women, but using birth control pills with a low dose of estrogen (the type of birth control pills that many women take) may not be linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. Consult your gynaecologist to understand the advantages and side-effects of taking birth control pills.

If you’re very concerned about breast cancer, avoiding birth control pills is one option to lower the risk.

7. Avoid post-menopausal hormones.

After menopause, your body has less estrogen. This major change in your hormonal balance can affect your physical health to a great extent. Remember that estrogen is important to help carry out various body functions. Hormone replacement therapy or post-menopausal hormones are medications to replace the estrogen that your body stops making during menopause. 

Post-menopausal hormones shouldn’t be taken for a longer duration. Studies show they have a mixed effect on your health, increasing the risk of some diseases and lowering the risk of others. 

Estrogen-only hormones and estrogen-plus-progestin (progesterone) hormones increase the risk of breast cancer. If women do take post-menopausal hormones, it should be for the shortest time possible. The best person to talk to about the risks and benefits of postmenopausal hormones is your gynaecologist.

To summarize, breast cancer can be prevented with some simple dietary and lifestyle changes. Make sure to spread awareness and encourage all women to start taking up monthly breast examinations to detect the disease, if any, at the earliest and treat it on time. Consult your gynaecologist to know more about breast cancer detection and prevention.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.