Resolutions to lower your risk
It’s the new year, and if you haven’t already written out your resolutions, we’ve come up with a few that will keep you healthy in 2020 – and lower your risk of developing breast cancer to boot.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight before menopause doesn’t appear to increase the risk of developing breast cancer. However, once you go through menopause, carrying excess weight increases your risk of developing breast cancer, and also increases your risk of recurrence if you’ve been treated for breast cancer in the past. This is due to where oestrogen is produced as you age. Before menopause, oestrogen Is mostly produced in the ovaries, but once you go through menopause, oestrogen mainly comes from fat tissue. Thanks to this, carrying extra kilos after menopause can contribute to higher blood oestrogen levels, which are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
That said, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight no matter your age. One study found that gaining weight in adulthood increased the risk of developing breast cancer before and after menopause. In that study, women who gained approximately 25kg after age 18 had a 15% higher risk of breast cancer, compared to those who gained little or no weight. There is good news if you’re wanting to lose those few extra kilos: another study found that women who lost between 2-5kg after menopause had reduced their risk of breast cancer by more than 20%, compared to women who didn’t see their weight change.
Exercise is arguably the best thing you can do for your physical and mental wellbeing. Many studies have shown that being active on a regular basis can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, and can also reduce the risk of recurrence. It’s not just high-intensity gym workouts that count as exercise, going for a walk or bike ride, doing a few laps in the pool or winding down with yoga before bed all count. One study found that modest levels of exercise –the equivalent of walking about four hours a week – reduced the risk of breast cancer by 10%, compared to women who exercised less than that.
Make good diet changes – and drink less
The link between diet and breast cancer risk isn’t clear, but following a healthy diet can bring many health benefits in general. Aim to eat a diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruit, pulses and wholegrain foods. It’s also a good idea to limit high calorie and high-fat foods, as well as sugary food and drinks.
Alcohol, however, has been linked to a greater risk of breast cancer. Alcohol changes the way the body metabolises oestrogen, which results in higher blood oestrogen levels. Even one drink a day will slightly increase your lifetime risk, and this risk increases the more you drink. Embracing Dry January is a start, but reducing the amount you drink during the week is a good habit to keep up over the years.
Get a mammogram or do a self-check
While this doesn’t help prevent breast cancer developing, getting regular mammograms and knowing your normal can help find cancer early, when it’s most treatable. Breast Cancer Foundation NZ recommends women consider starting yearly mammograms at age 40 (two-yearly mammograms are funded from 45-69 through BreastScreen Aotearoa). You can phone 0800 270 200 to enrol if you’re aged 45 or over. If you’re under 40, check your breasts regularly. No matter your age, if you notice any changes, get them checked out by your GP, even if you’ve had a mammogram recently.