Dr. Sapna Nangia – Sr Consultant Radiation Oncology and the Lead for Breast Cancer at Apollo Proton Cancer Centre
Breast cancer being the commonest cancer in India, it is natural that there is an interest in knowing whether lifestyle changes can reduce the odds of developing this disease.
Here is some relevant information on this subject:
Obesity: Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause and also increases the risk of a particular type of cancer called triple-negative breast cancer in women who have not undergone menopause.
There are multiple reasons why obesity causes breast cancer – one reason is that fat cells produce the female hormone which makes the breast susceptible to cancer. Besides that, fat cells are known to produce inflammatory substances that can damage breast cells and result in result in cancer formation.
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It is important to note that not only is the risk of breast cancer higher in obese women but that obese women who suffer from cancer also have a higher chance of the disease coming back and a higher chance of dying of breast cancer.
This is specially relevant because a number of patients gain weight while undergoing chemotherapy.
The risk of breast cancer increases about 8% for every 5kg/sq m increase in body mass index.
It is also important to note that obesity increases the risk of many cancers besides breast cancer. These are gall bladder, colon, endometrial and esophageal cancer.
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Weight loss protects. Exercise helps reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 20%. The ideal is about 150 min of moderate exercise every week, which translates into 30 minutes, 5 days a week. It is important to make an exercise regime the part of one’s daily routine.
A diet which is low in fact is believed to reduce the risk of breast cancer. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains may be protective.
Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in case more than 3-4 drinks are consumed every week. Moderation is therefore advisable.
Smoking increases the risk of cancer by > 20 % and reduces the success rate of treatment in patients who have developed breast cancer.
Post-menopausal women are occasionally prescribed hormone replacement therapy ( HRT) for post-menopausal symptoms. This happens infrequently now because it is recognised that HRT increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
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Reduce The Odds Of Developing Breast Cancer: Recommendations
- It helps to maintain weight within the normal body mass index range , i.e. weight in kg / (ht in metres )2 ≤25.
- It also helps to not smoke.
- In case alcohol is to be consumed, it should be in moderation.
- A regular exercise regime is helpful.
- Pregnancy before 27 years and breast feeding for > 15 months (in lifetime) protects against breast cancer.
- Regular mammograms are the most effective tool to detect breast cancer in an early stage. Western guidelines recommend mammograms annually from the age of 50 years. There are no specific guidelines for India, but breast cancer is more common in younger women in India. It is advisable for Indian women to undergo a single mammogram between the ages of 40-45 and once in two years from 45 – 50 years.
- In the Indian context, since mammographic screening is not widespread, self breast examination is relevant.
- In case of a family history, it is advisable to start screening 10 years prior to the age at diagnosis of the family member suffering from breast cancer.