Keep breast cancer at bay

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Keep breast cancer at bay

While hereditary factors and mutation in tumour-suppressing BRCA1/BRCA2 genes remain the leading cause of breast cancer, a series of modifiable risk factors are also associated with the disease.

Though there is no sure shot way to prevent it, modifying these risk factors and adopting a healthy lifestyle can substantially lower your chances of developing the disease. Here are five ways to lower breast cancer risk:

Check your weight

You would be surprised to know that obesity is associated with an increased risk of 13 types of cancers. Breast cancer is one of them. Studies have linked a high body mass index (BMI) to increased risk of breast cancer. Being overweight or obese, especially after menopause, increases the risk. Breast cancer is associated with oestrogen exposure in the body. After menopause, the greater the fat tissue, the greater the risk. Therefore, controlling your weight is a crucial intervention to reduce your risk of breast cancer as well as other diseases such as bowel, kidney and pancreatic cancer.

Give up smoking & drinking

The chemicals in cigarettes enter our blood stream and are believed to trigger DNA-altering reactions, increasing risk of multiple types of cancers including carcinoma of the breasts. Similarly, research cited by American Cancer Society indicates that women who have two to five alcoholic drinks daily have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who drink only one a day or not at all.

Exercise is breast-friendly

Lack of physical activity is a major bane of our times. Elevators have replaced stairs everywhere and home deliveries have ensured that we do not even walk down to the neighbourhood store for our daily shopping. The result is heavy reduction in our levels of physical activity. Regular exercise is necessary as it controls blood sugar and limits blood insulin levels. Insulin in turn is capable of affecting the growth and behaviour of breast cells. Moderate to heavy exercise over 30 minutes every day has been found to substantially lower risk of breast cancer.

Reproductive behaviour

Increased median age of marriages as well as adoption of family planning practices are common characteristics of urban behavioural lifestyle today. However, most women who adopt these practices are not aware of the fact that delayed first pregnancy and reduced duration of breastfeeding are also associated with increased risk of breast cancer. Women who do not have children are also at a higher risk.

Pregnancy and breast feeding have a mitigating effect by reducing oestrogen exposure. Studies have indicated that the longer a woman breastfeeds, the greater protection she develops against risk of breast cancer.

Preventive surgery

A few years back, news of Angelina Jolie undergoing preventive mastectomy went viral across the world, making many people inquisitive about what led the Hollywood star to take such a step. Her decision had to do with mutated BRCA1/BRCA2 genes. In normal cells, BRCA1/BRCA2 genes help prevent cancer by making proteins that keep the cells from growing abnormally. However, in case there is a genetic mutation in these genes, the risk of breast cancer is 50%

Genetic testing helps reveal whether or not you have mutated genes. People with mutation in BRCA1/2 genes may decide to undergo preventive surgery like the actress. However, the cost of genetic testing is very high and most people in India cannot afford it. Yet, people who can undergo genetic testing can make an informed decision about their lives.

(The author is consultant, Gynaecology & Obstetrics, Paras Bliss Hospital, Panchkula)

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