Our country has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Asia with one in every 13 Pinay women at risk of getting the disease in their lifetime, according to the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology. The Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Cancer Society also list it as the most prevalent type of cancer in the country — 16% of the 50,000 diagnosed cancer cases.
Medical experts link the occurrence with Filipino women waiting to have kids until they are in their 30s, or opting to not have children at all, according to a news report by Inquirer. It causes them to be exposed to estrogen for a more extended period.
“Women naturally produce estrogen through the ovaries. It is a natural hormone. But this hormone feeds cancer cells so when you have constant high levels of estrogen in your body, it raises your risk of breast cancer,” explained Dr. Christina Galvez, an oncologist and president of the Philippine Breast Cancer Society, in the news report. “The production of this hormone only stops when you get pregnant and give birth so when you have kids, it shortens the period of your exposure to this type of hormone.”
But while breast cancer is prevalent, getting a diagnosis is not equivalent to a death sentence, according toDr. Norman San Agustin, a fellow at the American College of Surgeons and founder of the Asian Breast Center in Makati City.
“It’s the number one killer among different types of cancer, and yet it’s one of the most curable. In fact, we have a saying here, ‘The greatest tragedy is for a woman to die from a common disease that is 100% curable," he explains.
They also say that prevention is better than cure, and while some risk factors for the disease like family history and getting older are beyond your control, a few lifestyle changes can be achieved that can lower your risk for breast cancer. It may seem obvious, but prevention starts with healthy habits.
Here are the steps you can take to lower your risk for breast cancer.
1. Get to a healthy weight (and maintain it!).
According to the American Cancer Society, increased body weight and weight gain are linked with a higher risk of breast cancer. Obesity, particularly after menopause, can increase the risk further, says Mayo Clinic.
Part of achieving a healthy weight is to eat a healthy diet. Apart from breast cancer, it also helps decrease your risk for other types of cancer, as well as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Physical activity helps in maintaining a healthy weight and studies have shown that moderate to vigorous physical activity is linked to lower breast cancer risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week may help in maintaining your weight. But the exact amount of physical activity is different for every person so you may need to consult a health professional for the right way to lose or maintain weight.
Moderate activities make you breathe as hard as you will when brisk walking. Think of it as still being able to talk even if your heart rate is noticeably faster. Vigorous activities are those with a higher intensity. Compared to moderate activities, these cause an increased heart rate, sweating, and more rapid breathing rate.
Alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, and liquor can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, according to BreastCancer.org. It may also damage DNA in cells which increases breast cancer risk.
If you can’t eliminate alcohol completely, the American Cancer Society recommends to limit it to one alcoholic drink per day or 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
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4. Stop smoking (or don’t start at all).
You already know that smoking is bad for your health and several studies have shown that long-term cigarette smoking provides a definite risk for breast cancer. Smoking also poses a higher threat of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women, says Breastcancer.org. Second-hand smoke exposure may also be linked to breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women, according to the website.
Breastfeeding is not only best for baby — it can also do wonders for a mother’s health in so many ways. It has been linked to reducing the risk of breast cancer!
Women who breastfeed longer are less likely to get diagnosed with breast cancer, plus, it lowers the chances of cancer coming back after successful treatment. Lifestyle changes and having less menstrual cycles (ergo, less exposure to estrogen) are some of the doctors' theories behind the link.
6. Avoid using hormone therapy especially after menopause.
Combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years can increase the risk of breast cancer, according to Mayo Clinic. Talk to your doctor about the possible effects and ask if there are alternative treatments available.
Early detection is a significant factor in the treatment of breast cancer, and it ups the chances of survival by 100%. “Your chances of dying from bad pneumonia is higher than that of dying from breast cancer if it’s detected at stage zero,” says Dr. San Agustin.
Women should examine their own breasts starting in their 20s. Monthly breast self-exams (BSE) would help women get familiar with how their own breasts look and feel, so they’ll be more likely to report any changes to their doctor. (For a visual guide on what to look out for, click here.) By age 30, women must do annual clinical exams and a monthly BSE. By age 40, the American Cancer Society recommends women start having annual breast cancer screenings like mammograms.