Breast cancer: sort facts from fiction
Discover what raises - and lowers - your risk of breast cancer. By Karen Evennett
Which of the following raises your risk of breast cancer?
● Underwired bras
● Breast implants
● Bumping or bruising your breast
● Chemicals in the environment
● Being overweight
● Being older
● A family history of breast cancer
● The Pill
● A late menopause (after 55)
● Being tall
Answer Only the last eight are genuine risks. We cant change our height, age or family history (one in 20 breast cancers are thought to be due to a faulty gene). But, says Dr Caitlin Palframan of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, we can reduce the amount we drink. One alcoholic drink a day slightly raises the risk of breast cancer. Research also shows that the more weight we gain as adults, the higher our risk of breast cancer after the menopause. The Pill and HRT raise the risk. But this risk subsides when we stop taking them.
Which of the following lowers your risk of breast cancer?
● Regular exercise
● Starting your family young
Answer All of them.
Exercising regularly, having a baby in your 20s and breastfeeding all lower your risk of breast cancer. Were also at lower risk if we come from certain ethnic backgrounds in the UK, white women are diagnosed with breast cancer the most frequently, followed by black women, Asian women, mixed-race and then Chinese women.
A healthy diet can prevent breast cancer. True or false?
Answer The jury is still out.
Researchers have been unable to draw any firm conclusions, as people who eat a healthy low-fat diet with lots of fruit and veg also tend to exercise regularly and drink less alcohol. What we do know is that a healthy diet helps keep us at a normal weight, says Dr Palframan. And a University of Leeds survey of 35,000 women over seven years suggested that eating red meat significantly increases a post-menopausal womans chance of breast cancer. Older women who ate the most processed meat increased their risk by 64 per cent.
Breast cancer is faster growing in younger women. True or false?
Although every case is different, tumours in younger women do tend to be faster growing than the hormone-sensitive types that older women tend to get, says Dr Mark Verrill, consultant medical oncologist at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care in Newcastle. These tumours dont respond to hormone treatment and, although they respond better to chemotherapy, the prognosis is very slightly worse and the cancer more likely to return.
Having a benign breast lump can put you at risk of cancer. True or false?
But most benign breast lumps, such as cysts and fibroadenomas, dont increase your risk. Benign breast conditions with proliferative (rapidly growing) or atypical (abnormal) cells both rare make your risk of future breast cancer five times higher than average. If youre unsure what type of benign lump youve had, or worried about a breast condition, talk to your GP.
The best way to prevent breast cancer is through regular DIY breast checks. True or false?
Most cases are discovered by women who have spotted something different and gone to their GP. This allows for early diagnosis and treatment. Dr Palframan says: Be breast aware know whats normal and whats not. Any changes should be taken seriously. For more information, visit breakthrough.org.uk/tlc.