Ask the experts: Breast cancer

Ask the experts: Breast cancer

Here’s what we need to know about being ‘breast aware’.

Breast cancer facts

  • One in nine New Zealand women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • Seven women each day are diagnosed with breast cancer in New Zealand.
  • Between 90 and 95 per cent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
  • Getting older is the most common risk factor: over 70 per cent of new cases are among women 50 years and over. But breast cancer is also the most common cancer in women aged 20 to 45 years.
  • Around 370 New Zealand women in the pre-screening age group of 20 to 44 years will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
  • A mammogram can detect a tumour as small as two millimetres. A lump you can feel is on average 2-3cm in size.
  • Eighty-five per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer survive more than five years after their initial diagnosis. Women whose cancer is picked up by screening mammogram have a 95 per cent chance of surviving to five years, compared to 73 per cent for women whose cancer is diagnosed through feeling a lump.
  • The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation recommends yearly breast screening mammograms for women 40 to 49 years of age, and every two years from age 50.
  • Some women have a higher percentage of dense breast tissue, which is a risk factor for breast cancer, and which also makes it harder for a mammogram to detect tumours. When you have your mammogram, ask your radiologist about your breast density — you may need more frequent screening.

(Source: NZ Breast Cancer Foundation)

Are there links between breast cancer and diet?

Nutritionist Dr Libby Weaver says: “Absolutely, dietary change is a powerful and protective element of cancer prevention.” Among preventative measures, she recommends reducing alcohol consumption.

“One of the most powerful associations between diet and risk of breast cancer is alcoholic drinks. Sadly, so many women in this country regularly over-consume alcohol and it is this regular, over-consumption that is undeniably linked to the development of cystic breast tissue and breast cancer. Even moderate alcohol consumption increases breast cancer risk.

“Several studies link more than one standard drink per day to an increased risk. The reason for this is that alcohol interferes with estrogen metabolism. The liver has to transform (change) estrogen before it can be excreted so taking care of the liver with a diet high in plant foods and limiting ‘liver loaders’ such as alcohol is key to reducing the risk of developing breast cancer.”

Maintaining a healthy weight will also help reduce your breast cancer risk.

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