HEALTH: Breast Cancer How to Reduce the Risk; It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month Once Again - but If We Really Want to Beat the Disease We Need to Do More Than Wear a Pretty Pink Ribbon

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Byline: Words: Lynne Michelle

Horrifying statistics show Britain has the highest rate of breast cancer in the world, with one in nine women developing the disease. The UK's women aren't doing enough to protect their assets - one in seven never bother to check for lumps and thousands are either ignorant about the causes of the disease or unwilling to change their lifestyle. Contrary to popular belief, breast cancer is not a simple matter of flawed genetics: only 5-10% of cases are caused directly by an inherited fault. But whether or not you have a family history of breast cancer, there are real ways to reduce your chances of getting the disease and becoming one of the 13,000 women who die from it each year in the UK.

GO FOR CHECK-UPS

Age is the biggest single risk factor for breast cancer, so it's vital for older women to take advantage of the national breast screening programme. Mammograms are now offered on the NHS for all women over 50, although younger women with a higher risk of the disease can also ask to be screened.

TAKE ACTION FAST

If you find anything abnormal during a self-examination, act on it straight away. It sounds obvious, yet research has found nearly a third of breast cancer sufferers who detect a lump, or other symptoms, themselves put off visiting their doctor for at least three months. This is alarming as stats show breast cancer patients who wait more than three months before seeking treatment are less likely to be alive in five years' time.

SHAPE UP

Years of research has proven overweight people have a higher breast cancer risk and now scientists think they know why. The exact mechanism isn't yet fully understood, but there is a well-established link between high levels of the female hormone oestrogen and the development of breast cancer. Last year, cancer experts discovered obesity raises levels of oestrogen in the blood, which helps to explain why overweight women are up to a fifth more likely to develop the disease.

GET MOVING

Numerous studies have shown getting physical on a regular basis can slash your cancer risk. This year a huge US study found women who embarked on an exercise regime significantly decreased their risk, even if they'd never exercised before - meaning it's never too late to start. The survey found the best protection was offered by moderate exercise like walking, cycling and swimming five times a week. However, they found exercise alone didn't cut the breast cancer risk in overweight women unless they lost weight too.

REDUCE YOUR SAT FATS

Reducing your intake of saturated fats can cut your risk of breast cancer, according to a recent Cambridge study. Researchers found women who ate the most saturated fats - those found in fast food, fatty meats and crisps, for example - were almost twice as likely to develop the disease. The researchers say their study isolated the impact of saturated fat from the risk of obesity in general, suggesting weight loss needs to be combined with a diet low in saturates. Make sure you're cutting out the right kind of fat though, as there's evidence heart-healthy fats found in oily fish and nuts can help ward off cancer.

DRINK LESS ALCOHOL

Scientists are warning Britain's binge-drinking culture is a breast cancer time bomb. A study last year found women who drank more than four units of alcohol a day upped their risk of breast cancer by 1.5%. While that may sound fairly insignificant, the same study reported an additional 7% risk for every extra daily unit consumed. With binge boozing among females at an all-time high, experts fear young women are building up a serious breast cancer risk over a period of years, or even decades.

QUIT SMOKING

Although smoking has not been proven to be a direct breast cancer risk, scientists have shown smokers are less likely to survive the disease. Smoking helps breast cancer to spread and encourages the formation of secondary tumours in the lungs, possibly by making the blood vessels leak and allowing cancerous cells to escape into different areas of the body. …