In South Africa, breast cancer accounts for 16% of cancer deaths amongst women and affects 27 in 100 000 women. Globally, 627 000 people are estimated to die from breast cancer in 2018 alone. These statistics are not only shocking but are more commonplace than thought with positive cancer diagnosis cases still on the rise.

Of the diseases, breast cancer is one of the most treatable. Early detection efforts and making lasting lifestyle changes with proper care and maintenance are key to prevention. Over the years it has been a combination of better screening processes and the adoption of changes in lifestyle that play a role in reducing the risk of any cancer further. Although there is no single or definitive way to prevent the disease, there is scientific evidence to support measures that help minimise the chance of cancer cells developing.

The signs and symptoms

The most common sign of potential cancer is a lump in the breast. The lumps themselves are not painful but should be carefully monitored for changes. When looking for other signs women should make note of signs such as a bloody nipple discharge, changes in the appearance of the skin of the breast or surrounding skin, and palpable lymph nodes in the axilla (the area directly beneath the joint of the shoulder).

Ultrasounds and mammograms have also become effective ways to identify early breast cancers before a lump can be felt which is why it is imperative to go for regular checks.

Limiting your alcohol intake

The regular consumption of alcohol has been linked to several different kinds of cancer as a result of the negative effect excessive drinking has on the functions of the body. The link between alcohol and breast cancer is particularly strong as it significantly increases estrogen in the body to a dangerous level.

Even though having a drink once in a while may have some benefits for the heart, overall the bottom line is about moderation, and if one does not drink then it is best not to begin drinking at all. However, these benefits do not necessarily outweigh the risks, even small amounts of alcohol increase the risk of developing cancer, particularly breast cancer, in women. Today, research provides growing evidence that would suggest that people be urged not to drink.

Movement as exercise

The benefits of exercise – from improved moods to better cardiovascular health – are well known. Regular exercise stimulates the body to release proteins and other chemicals that improve the structure and function of the brain. This, in turn, lowers the chances of developing breast cancer while promoting not only physical but emotional and mental health. Movement in various forms reduces inflammation, improves the immune system, and can lower body fat. A body at risk of being overweight or obese has a higher risk of developing cancer. When it comes to lifestyle it would require that individuals pay close attention to what food they keep in their fridge and how they structure their meals throughout the day. A person is less likely to waiver from healthy habits if a structure or plan is in place to follow.

Watching what you eat

In 2016 a study showed that women who ate more servings of fiber throughout the day when they were younger lowered their chance of developing breast cancer as adults, compared to those who said they did not have as much fiber in their diets. Fiber helps with digestion, cholesterol and weight management which are good for prevention. Being mindful of what is in your diet assists in maintaining healthier habits around food and the function of the body. More fruits and vegetables, less red meat, processed foods, sugars and salts also play an important role in maintaining a healthy diet.

Fat is a widely debated nutrient, however, research supports the benefits of its inclusion in most diets. Monounsaturated fats, in particular, can help with weight loss, reduce the risk of heart disease, and decrease inflammation. Full-fat dairy, for example, may help to increase longevity and reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Still, this is not to say that a low-fat diet, that is also rich in produce and whole grains, does not have its own benefits. That is, low-fat diets were also linked to lowering cancer risk and also resulted in weight loss and a higher overall nutrient intake.

Stop smoking

Smoking is known to increase the risks of lung cancer, however, carcinogenic properties in cigarettes may also lead to the development of other cancers in the body, such as breast cancer. Studies suggest that these cancer-related risks strongly increases the earlier a person begins smoking in their lives. 

Changing your lifestyle

Overall, it is best to act preventatively whether a history of the disease is known or not, and early detection persists as a key role in the fight against breast cancer.  It is also a combination of positive behavioural changes in lifestyle as well as moderation in diet and forms of movement that ultimately work towards lowering the risks of developing breast cancer.