This October we want to consider how to prevent breast cancer rather than cure it.
Every October people across the world recognise Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The campaign was started in the USA in 1985 by pharmaceutical company, Astra Zeneca, and introduced to the UK in 1993. Across the world women dress up in pink to raise money for breast cancer charities and remember all the women who have succumbed to this most common cancer in the UK.
I’m Nikki Mattei and I work for Greenscents on their marketing and communications. However, I have also worked in the field of breast cancer prevention for over 10 years, offering breast health presentations in the workplace and then more recently working with the breast cancer prevention charity, Breast Cancer UK, to set up their Ambassador Programme. So much has changed during those 10 years and it is now so easy and appealing to make some of the changes you will read about further on.
1 in 4 breast cancers are preventable
We believe that we should go further than awareness. 1 in 4 breast cancers are preventable and that’s a lot of women and their families who could avoid deep suffering. Men can get breast cancer too but in much smaller numbers – the cancer they should be most concerned about is prostate cancer – and a lot of our tips on how to prevent breast cancer are relevant to men too as it is also a cancer which is usually connected to hormone levels.
What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
There are a number of risk factors for breast cancer. Some which you can’t do anything about, such as physical factors or genetics, but there are other areas such as diet, environment and lifestyle that you can influence yourself.
For more detailed information on risk factors, do visit Breast Cancer UK’s website and to find out more about preventing breast cancer. They also have a great Quiz where you can see how well you’re doing on reducing your own risk.
So how to prevent breast cancer?
As we mentioned, 1 in 4 breast cancers are preventable and there are simple choices or changes you can make to reduce your risk. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t get breast cancer but it does mean that you are taking active steps to reduce your risk. Most of the things are easy to do and will help your overall health as well. Plus they are things you will probably want to do!
They fall into four categories:
- Diet and weight
- Exercise and activity
- Chemicals and environment
Diet and weight
We all know that what we eat is so important for our health and that maintaining a healthy weight will also prevent conditions like Type 2 diabetes.
There is a wealth of help online and instore for choosing healthy food options and eating a balanced diet. You could consider the 80/20 rule where 80% of the time you eat healthy foods with the emphasis on wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, pulses, nuts and seeds. Then the other 20% of the time you include meat/fish, dairy and some treats!
Exercise and activity
I mentioned earlier that breast cancer is usually related to hormone levels, particularly high oestrogen levels – you may have heard that the majority of breast cancers are oestrogen-driven.
It’s believed that physical activity lowers hormone levels and reduces inflammation. Exercise also helps your own immune system protect you from cancer.
Most of us know that exercise is important but it often falls off the list when there are other pressing daily tasks to deal with. The best advice is to find something that you enjoy. So you don’t need to be working out at the gym every day if the idea of that fills you with horror! You could just decide to walk to work or cycle. Little things like getting off the bus or train a few stops early and walking the rest of the way. Choosing the stairs rather than the lift is another option. You might love to dance or set up a walking group with friends. Just take some time to decide what would work for you and what you would be able to stick to.
If you want to be convinced how important exercise is and how much our levels of physical activity have changed, watch this TEDx Talk by Darryl Edwards of Primal Play.
Not smoking is a very obvious choice to make for your health but you may not have thought about the fact that having children younger (ideally under 30) reduces your risk. This clearly goes against the growing trend in the developed world to have children later in life into the late 30s and early 40s. Also breast feeding and the longer you do so will both reduce your risk.
Both the use of the contraceptive pill (combined synthetic oestrogen and progesterone) and HRT increase breast cancer risk.
Going through the menopause can be a very difficult and challenging time for many women but there are many small changes that can be made in your life before resorting to HRT. Improving your diet and cutting out the junk can often help hugely and we’ve already mentioned the importance of exercise in balancing hormone levels. Another factor to consider is the fabrics you wear – synthetic fabrics make you sweat and natural fabrics allow your skin to breathe not to mention that fabrics like polyester and viscose are derived from non-sustainable sources. Also think about what you wear in bed at night and consider investing in a natural cotton and wool duvet which will keep you cool at night.
Chemicals and environment
Last but not least (and the area we are most concerned about of course) is our exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). You may be using them every day in your beauty and cosmetic products. More and more people are seeking out natural and organic alternatives as shown by the growth of the organic beauty market.
Cleaning products can contain EDCs which you can inhale or can touch your skin. One study in the US showed that women who used the most cleaning products had double the risk of breast cancer compared with those who used the least. Synthetic fragrances can often contain EDCs as well as antimicrobial compounds like triclosan or triclocarban. Christina, our founder, wrote a blog for Breast Cancer UK previously, with more detailed information about the various chemicals found in household products, which you can read here.
As the whole Greenscents range is certified by The Soil Association with more than 70% organic ingredients, we believe that you won’t find safer products to use in your home. This is why our strapline is ‘happy, healthy home’!
Stats and risk information: Breast Cancer UK https://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/
Cleaning and breast cancer risk – Zota et al. Environmental Health 2010, 9:40 http://www.ehjournal.net/content/9/1/40