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Without exception any woman who has received a diagnosis of Breast Cancer will agree it is a day and a moment she will never forget. Many describe it as it was as if time stood still. The news is often received in a Doctor’s office, or clinic, so the woman may be alone and without support from family or friends. Instantly she is confronted with the world of breast cancer, with questions of survival, removal of breasts, or at the very least some disfigurement, treatments, concerns of hair loss or other side effects, and the impacts on work and family life. Her experience of life has forever changed, and from that moment forth, if allowed, a new pathway that can question her every living way of life is revealed.

Breast Cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, impacting 2.1 million women each year. It is estimated that 627,000 women died from breast cancer in 2018 alone.
Source: WHO World Health Organisation website accessed 2019
These numbers are not presented to incite fear, but rather to alert all of us to the current state, and from there ask, what as women can we each contribute to our own health and wellbeing in the face of such an illness?

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Breast Cancer is unquestionably a newsworthy topic with it being the most common cancer diagnosed in women. In 2012 there were 1.7 million new cases of Breast Cancer globally with 2.1 million women impacted by breast cancer in 2018. Yet news of Breast Cancer is not something that is covered in enough depth in our newspapers, women’s magazines or TV news programs.

 

In 1991 Time Magazine reported that 1 in 10 women in the US will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer (2). By 2007 Time then reported that the incidence was now 1 in 8 women (3). These statistics are saying that for each 8 women who live to 80 years of age, one will contract Breast Cancer. So, if you have a group of 8 female friends, or family members, one will have breast cancer in her lifetime. Since the 2008 estimates, breast cancer incidence has increased by more than 20% (5).

 

These numbers are not presented to incite fear, but rather to alert all of us to the current state, and from there ask, what as women can we each contribute to our own health and wellbeing in the face of such an illness?

 

Research and support organisations for Breast Cancer abound, and the Pink Ribbon awareness campaigns have put Breast Cancer on the map as far as fund raising and support groups are concerned. After about 30 years of breast care awareness campaigning, we have a generation who have grown up with messages of the impending threat of breast cancer, celebrity double mastectomies, and the call to check our breasts for early signs of breast cancer. There is no doubt these early detection measures have successfully saved lives, yet as we have seen the tide of breast cancer continues to rise. So, what can we, each of us as women do to support the move to prevention as well as early detection?

The great news for women is that lifestyle factors, and importantly the way we are each living plays a significant role in the prevention of Breast Cancer. WHO reports that the risk of breast cancer can be influenced by key factors such as weight, exercise, diet and alcohol consumption. Dr Christopher Wild, a co-editor of the WHO report and Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer notes:

"Nearly half of all cancers could be prevented" and "We cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem. A balanced approach to prevention, early detection and treatment is required." (1)

Evidence based research is finally catching up with what many have known for a very long time, that choices in the way we live our lives can affect the incidence of breast cancer. ​​​​While early detection programs and screening are active in many countries, education on prevention is rare. Are our teenagers (or adult women for that matter) being taught about the impact of alcohol, weight, exercise and diet on their body when it comes to Breast Cancer?

Estimates for the importance of lifestyle and breast cancer prevention vary saying that between 27% and 38% of the disease can be prevented by decreases in body weight, alcohol and inactivity. If any drug offered such a significant drop in risk (with no side effects) we would all be talking about it – headline news indeed! 

 

Taking that in and stating it plainly. The 1 in 8 women that are statistically expected to contract Breast Cancer in their lifetime, can be reduced by almost 40% by changing their diets, reducing their alcohol intake, and exercising!

Evidence based research is finally catching up with what many have known for a very long time, that choices in the way we live our lives can affect the incidence of breast cancer. ​​​​

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Saying it another way, if 8000 women were at a conference for women’s health, 1000 of them would at some point in their life be expected to have Breast Cancer. However, if of that 1000 women destined for Breast Cancer, 380 of them decided that wellbeing and prevention of illness is important enough to them that they would take better care of themselves, with food, removing alcohol from their daily life, and going for a brisk walk regularly, then the likelihood is only 720 women would contract Breast Cancer, and not 1000.  That is 380 less women with Breast Cancer.

Perhaps surprisingly a family history of Breast Cancer only accounts for 1 in 10 cases of Breast Cancer. Stated another way: For every 100 women in the UK who contract Breast Cancer about 90 will not have a significant family history.

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How is the above not headline news? If we could as a society offer education on the prevention of Breast Cancer, alongside early detection programs, then we would not only be offering women greater health, we would be offering them an opportunity to play a significant role in their own wellbeing in an extraordinarily empowering way.

As Annie Anderson, Professor of Public Health Nutrition at University of Dundee observes: 
"We have a national breast cancer screening program in the UK (and in many countries worldwide) but there are no national screening and prevention programs. In the UK women are denied the opportunity to hear about how lifestyle can help to reduce breast cancer risk although there is evidence that the setting of a screening program is an acceptable one for hearing about effective and supportive interventions." (6)

 

The cause of Breast Cancer is not known, and so medical research can only offer us the potential risk factors associated with Breast Cancer. These include factors such genetics, age, and medical history. There has been a lot of media attention on the BRCA gene, and celebrity double mastectomies. Perhaps surprisingly a family history of Breast Cancer only accounts for 1 in 10 cases of Breast Cancer. Stated another way: For every 100 women in the UK who contract Breast Cancer about 90 will not have a significant family history. (7) So it is clear there is much more to the cause of Breast Cancer than only genetics.

There are risk factors (potential contributing causes) that fall well within the activity of a woman’s everyday life, and these include diet, weight (particularly after menopause), exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, hormone replacement therapy and stress. As you read through this list of risk factors that are within our own circle of influence, it becomes clear – as women we have a role to play in our own health, and rather than that fact being a burden, it is in fact placing us firmly back in the driver’s seat of our own wellbeing.

Medical research reports these are important risk factors, but for many women the perhaps far off thought of potential Breast Cancer may not be the motivation needed to make daily changes like curbing their alcohol intake or exercising regularly. Foundational Breast Care offers that for each woman, the care and nurturing of herself plays an important role in her overall wellbeing including her breast health.

 

Self-care has become somewhat of a buzz phrase in today’s wellbeing chronicles, although its benefits may not be fully understood by mainstream media. When a woman introduces self-care to her daily routines, she is immediately on a new pathway that offers a continual development of care. This might include a gentle walk after dinner, work, and children are complete, rather than a glass of wine watching television. Self-care will by definition be different for each woman, but once a woman asks herself, what would be a way I can be more caring for myself, the ways will present, and for the question to have even been asked is a step towards greater care.

 

Through the embracing of self-care it is natural to want to shower with more care, check the breasts for lumps or abnormalities with more care, eat with more care and so on. It is a pathway that naturally develops into a deep self-nurturing and self-honouring that provides immense benefits to the overall health of any woman. Through self-nurturing  a woman can access her own innate deep care and innately knows that only through that dedication to herself can she fully care for and support her children, family and friends. The world wants to tell every woman that her (so called) selflessness and caring for others by putting herself last is a noble way of living. Foundational Breast Care offers that it is actually through her own self-care and self-nurturing that is the foundation of inner support and wellbeing that then flows to her children, family, friends, work and life.

As women we have a role to play in our own health, and rather than that fact being a burden, it is in fact placing us firmly back in the driver’s seat of our own wellbeing.

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STATISTICS AND REFERENCES

 

1 – International Agency for Research on Cancer (2013) Press Release No.223 https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2013/pdfs/pr223_E.pdf

 

The WHO World Cancer Report 2014 reports the facts on breast cancer worldwide are:

  • ​In 2012, 1.7 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 6.3 million women were alive 5 years after their diagnosis (1)

  • 1 in 4 of all cancers diagnosed in women is breast cancer (1) 

  • Since 2008, breast cancer incidence has increased by more than 20% and mortality has increased by 14% (1)

  • Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths amongst women (522 000 deaths in 2012) (1)

 

2 - Wallis, C. (1991). Breast Cancer: A Puzzling Plague. Time.

3 - Kingsbury, K. (2007). The Changing Face of Breast Cancer. Time.

4 – International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organisation, http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2013/pdfs/pr223_E.pdf, Accessed 03-2019

5 - 2016.  World Cancer Research Fund www.wcrf.org. http://www.wcrf.org/int/blog/articles/2016/02/world-cancer-day-2016-why-cancer-prevention-so-important

6 - Anderson AS, Macleod M, [...] Wyke S. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. Breast cancer risk reduction--is it feasible to initiate a randomised controlled trial of a lifestyle

intervention programme (ActWell) within a national breast screening programme? 2014 Dec 17;11:156. doi: 10.1186/s12966-014-0156-2.B http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25516158

BREAST CARE / FURTHER READING

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