“You have breast cancer”. These terrifying words may be heard by almost every woman worldwide. The disease does not care what is your status, occupation, or walk of life you belong to, it comes and takes the most precious thing we have – our health.
A similar misery happened to the world-famous actress, Angelina Jolie. One morning she took aback all her fans with an Instagram post that said: ‘1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today I am the one’. Due to having a genetic predisposition, she underwent surgery to have her breast removed and significantly reduce the risk of dying from this disease. Luckily, the operation helped and we may continue enjoying Jolie’s starring in various movies. What is more important, her situation influenced the rise of public awareness of breast cancer.
According to World Health Organisation, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer globally in 2020. The disease claimed 685 000 lives during the same year. On the other hand, in the past 5 years, 7.8 million women are alive despite having been diagnosed with breast cancer. This makes the very disease the world’s most prevalent cancer.
The mortality rate of breast cancer remained relatively stable from the 1930s to the 1970s. Early detection programmes and different treatment methods combined with early detection programmes led to improvements in survival in the 1980s. Breast cancer is expected to cause over 3 million new cases and 1 million deaths by 2040.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer appears when cells in the breast start growing and dividing uncontrollably and create a tumour – a mass of tissue. Breast cancer can spread outside the breast through the blood and lymph vessels. Around 30% of women diagnosed with breast cancer will experience metastasis (spread of cancer).
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women over the age of 50. Although rare, men can also develop the disease. The disease is responsible for 18.2% of all cancer deaths worldwide, both male and female.
How breast cancer starts
Breast cancer does not occur out of blue. That lump you feel in the shower one morning may have started forming decades ago. The tumour a doctor detects may have been present in your body for decades. During its growth, evolution, and survival-of-the-fittest mutations, the cancer has become more and more capable of outsmarting your immune system in order to grow even faster.
It is frightening to realize that what doctors call “early detection” is actually late detection. It is imperative to be aware of the risk factors so that any abnormalities can be detected and acted upon at the earliest opportunity.
Main causes of breast cancer
Breast cancer is most commonly associated with older age. As women age, their chances of getting breast cancer increase. 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are over 45 years old, and approximately 43% are 65 years old or older.
Breast cancer is more likely to strike you at some point in your life if you have parents, siblings, or other close relatives who have had the disease. Approximately 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it.
BRCA1 is an example of an inherited cancer-causing gene. The BRCA1 is a gene that suppresses tumours and regulates cell division as well as maintains the genome’s stability. A BRCA1 mutation increases the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Anjelina Jolie inherited BCRA1 from her mother who passed away from ovarian and breast cancer. Her doctor estimated that the very gene gave her an 87% risk of breast and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer development. Due to these circumstances, the actress made a decision to undergo a preventive operation to remove her breast.
Cancer-causing chemicals can be found in cigarette smoke. There is a higher chance of breast cancer for women who smoke or who used to smoke than for those who don’t smoke or never smoked. Breast cancer patients who smoke also have a higher risk of dying after diagnosis plus smoking increases the chances of cancer coming back even after recovery.
Drinking alcohol even in moderation has been shown to increase cancer risks. Alcohol has such a detrimental effect because of the toxic breakdown product of alcohol called acetaldehyde, which is formed in the mouth after the first sip. Acetaldehyde is a carcinogen which is known for causing cancer. As carcinogens damage DNA and alter the metabolism of cells, they promote uncontrolled, malignant division, eventually leading to the formation of tumours.
Annually, nearly 5,000 breast cancer deaths are linked to light drinking worldwide.
Obesity has proven its influence on the development of all kinds of cancer. Excess body weight is responsible for approximately 3.9% of all cancers (544,300 cases) globally. Obesity increases breast cancer risk by 1.2-1.4 times. Extra fat cells in the body mean more estrogen in the body, and estrogen can promote hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer growth and development.
Breast cancer is more likely to occur if radiation therapy is given to the chest to treat other types of cancer. Puberty, when breasts begin to develop, is the most dangerous time for radiation treatment.
Main symptoms of breast cancer
A new lump is the most common symptom of breast cancer, it usually looks like a hard mass with irregular edges that don’t cause pain. Other symptoms of the very disease include:
The breast has changed in its size or contour
Pain in breast and nipples
Red, dry or thickened shin of breast, nipples
Bloody or transparent discharge from the nipple
The whole breast or a part of it is swollen
Some of the symptoms are hard to identify or we are just too inattentive to notice them. That’s why it is important to have regular mammograms.
Six healthy habits to prevent or significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer
Breast cancer risk can be significantly influenced by lifestyle choices. In a study that lasted about seven years, researchers followed about thirty thousand postmenopausal women without a history of breast cancer. During that very period, it was recommended that women limit alcohol intake, eat plant foods, and maintain healthy body weight. 60% fewer breast cancer deaths were associated with those shifts in lifestyle choices. More than half the risk could be cut by following three simple health behaviours.
Here are some healthy habits you should take on to ward off all the risks.
1Exercise to maintain a healthy weight
The benefits of physical activity include weight control and a lower circulating estrogen level, which make physical activity an important preventive measure against breast cancer. Despite the fact that light exercise may lower the risk for certain types of cancer, leisure walking, for example, doesn’t reduce the risk of breast cancer. Just an hour of slow dancing or light housework each day may not be enough to protect your health from this disease.
According to the study, significant protection appeared to be obtained only by women who were physically active five or more times a week. Extra weight is a factor that may lead to the conversion of healthy cells into cancerous ones. When the body carries too much additional weight it can be a spark for estrogen to make cancer cells multiply and spread. About 20% of estrogen and progesterone exposure can be reduced by five hours of vigorous aerobic exercise per week.
2Add more plants to your diet. Surprise 🙂
The capacity of a healthy, rich-in-plant diet to treat multiple diseases is not limited when it comes to cancer. A study that examined 1,500 women showed that eating five or more helpings of fruits and vegetables a day accompanied by walking 6 days per week was linked with 50% less risk of dying from cancer after 2 years of being diagnosed with it.
Food high in fibre reduces cancer risk by 85%
Researchers found that premenopausal women who consumed 6g of fibre which is equal to a cup of black beans (250g) had a 62% lower risk of developing breast cancer. Fibre has demonstrated an even more significant effect on breast tumours. Women who had a high-fibre diet were 85% less likely to succumb to the very disease.
One apple a day keeps the oncologist away
Apples are great antioxidants and also have the property of suppressing the growth of cancer cells. The study revealed that people who ate one and more apples on daily basis had 24% lower odds of breast cancer than those who didn’t eat apples.
Cruciferous vegetables detox substances that cause cancer
Cruciferous vegetables, for instance broccoli, have the ability to detox carcinogens which makes them a good cancer protector. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli contain sulforaphane, which inhibits the formation of tumours by breast cancer stem cells. As a result, eating lots of broccoli may help prevent your cancer from returning if you’re currently in remission.
A study of 50,000 African-American women found that those who ate two or more servings of vegetables per day had a significantly reduced risk of developing breast cancer. Broccoli appears to be especially protective in premenopausal women, but consumption of greens is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer at any age.
Flaxseeds help to prevent and treat breast cancer
Flaxseeds are beneficial for health because of being rich in lignans. Lignans are phytoestrogens that are able to reduce the risk of various diseases including breast cancer.
Daily consumption of tablespoonful of ground flaxseeds extends the menstrual cycle by a day. Consequently, she will have fewer periods over the course of her lifetime, which may decrease her exposure to estrogen and reduce her risk of developing breast cancer.
Breast cancer risk is significantly reduced in postmenopausal women who consume lignans.
Researchers took 45 women who had a high risk of breast cancer. Ladies were to eat 2 teaspoons of flaxseeds daily. Women had fewer precancerous changes in their breasts after a year of regular flaxseed intake. 80% of subjects had a drop in Ki-67, a marker of increased proliferation of normal and tumour cells. Thus, adding a few tablespoons of ground flaxseeds to your oatmeal or whatever else you eat throughout the day may reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Soy drops the risk by 25%
Soybeans contain another phytoestrogen called isoflavones. Intake of soy isoflavones is associated with a reduced risk of development of breast cancer.
A single cup (250 ml) of soy milk contains enough phytoestrogens to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurring by 25%.
Study findings showed that 90% of breast cancer patients who consumed the most soy phytoestrogens after diagnosis were still alive five years later, while those who had a little intake of soy passed away.
3Give up drinking alcohol, except red wine
Alcohol consumption is negatively associated with the growth of breast cancer risk. Drinking results in the production of potentially carcinogenic levels of acetaldehyde, a substance that carries forward the division of cancer cells and the formation of tumours. The study shows that even a moderate intake of 30g (two glasses of wine) of alcohol daily over a period of years rises the very risk by 30 to 40% if compared with tee-totalers.
Interestingly, red wine has demonstrated no association with raising breast cancer risks. The components of a red wine suppress the estrogen synthase, which is used by tumours as a tool to make estrogen a fuel for its own growth.
This compound can be found in the skin of dark grapes. So if you cannot help but sip wine at the end of a hectic week choose red wine.
4Quit or do not even start smoking
Smoking is an unhealthy habit that detrimentally affects all the organs of your body. Long-term smoking is associated with a bigger risk of breast cancer. There are many toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke, including those that cause cancer.
According to a study, breast cancer is more likely to occur in women who smoke or use to smoke than those who don’t or never smoked. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, women who gave up smoking had a 33% lower risk of dying of this cancer.
5Sleep at night
Melatonin is a hormone that helps your body to regulate your sleep. Besides this, it has another crucial role – halting the growth of cancer cells. Melatonin is something that lulls and puts cancer cells to sleep at night. The study showed that women who worked unsociable hours were at a 16% higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Melatonin secretion is at its benign from 2 am to 5 am, so the best for you would be to sleep at those hours and reduce the breast cancer risk naturally.
6Have annual checkups once you turn 40
Regular breast examinations help women detect and treat non-emergency cancers early on. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women have yearly checkups for breast health. The examinations should be started at the age of 40 and 44 years old. It’s during this stage that most women experience breast changes due to aging and hormonal fluctuations. The screening process should continue as long as the woman is in good health. Regular checkups can help you catch breast cancer early and treat it successfully. This approach significantly reduces deaths from breast cancer.
How to keep breast cancer away. Let’s sum up
Breast cancer is a devastating disease that affects the ill both physically and mentally. Even though the statistics are growing, breast cancer is one of the most preventable of all cancers. Make sure to protect yourself and your loved ones by taking on the very healthy habits and tips discussed above. You can improve the quality of your life and health by making sensible lifestyle changes and sticking to them all the way through.
Not enough? Here is more from our colleagues
If you want to learn more about breast cancer, we recommend you read the book ‘How not to die’ by Michael Greger. Not only does it provides insight into preventing and dealing with breast cancer and other severe conditions but it also offers tips on having a healthy lifestyle that can protect you from diseases and premature death. This article is inspired by the book and it is a must-read for anyone looking to improve their overall health and longevity.
To understand what breast cancer is, you may have a look at this video which vividly shows the process of cancer developing and spreading.
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