As the Breast Cancer Awareness Month ends, a reminder on the risk factors

Breast cancer accounts for more than 25 per cent of cancers in women and has overtaken cervical cancer. It is the main cause of death in women in the age group of 40 to 59. To predict when and in whom breast cancer will occur, scientists must often think like detectives, looking for clues to signal which woman may be more likely than others to develop the disease. These clues are called ‘risk factors'.

The highest risk factor for breast cancer is being female; the disease is about 100 times more common among women. The risk of breast cancer increases as a woman grows older.

The risk is especially high for women aged 60 and older. Breast cancer is uncommon in women under 35, although it does occur. Women who have had breast cancer and women with a history of breast disease (not cancer, but a condition that may predispose them to cancer) may develop it again. Additionally, the risk of developing breast cancer increases for a woman whose mother, sister, daughter, or close relatives have had the disease.

It is important to know how old they were at the time they were diagnosed. Some individuals, both women and men, may be born with an alteration or change in one of two genes that are important for regulating breast cell growth. Individuals who inherit an alteration in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are at an inherited higher risk for breast cancer.

However, various lifestyle choices can be made to avoid the risk of breast cancer. Decrease daily fat intake, especially saturated or hydrogenated fats and eat leaner meats and limit red. Increase fibre in your diet. Fibre is found in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.

This type of diet is beneficial for your heart and can help prevent other cancers such as colon cancer. In addition to their fibre content, fruits and vegetables have antioxidant properties and micronutrients that may help prevent some cancers.

Evidence suggests that a small increase in risk exists for women who average two or more drinks per day (beer, wine, and distilled liquor). Moreover, you can help prevent many health problems by engaging in a moderate amount of physical activity (such as taking a brisk, 30-minute walk) on most days of the week.

Although smoking doesn't cause breast cancer, it can increase the chance of blood clots, heart disease, and other cancers that may spread to the breast.

Mammography screening remains the best available method to detect breast cancer early. Other screening tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are available. Additionally, a woman who still menstruates should schedule the mammogram for one week after her menstrual period begins, when the breasts will be the least tender. Women are asked to avoid using deodorant and lotions on the day of the mammogram.

(Chief Surgical Oncologist, Omega Hospitals, Hyderabad)

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