IT'S the disease women fear the most and given that it's the second most common cancer in Ireland, it's understandable how many of us feel helpless against the threat of breast cancer.
However, experts agree that while there are certain elements outside of our control, such as hereditary factors, there are still plenty of simple, practical things we can do to help reduce our risk and stack the odds in our favour.
Here's what we can all do to make a real and positive difference:
1 Lose The Belly Fat There's no doubt that being overweight can increase the risk of breast cancer, particularly if you carry excess weight around your middle. The easiest way to assess whether your weight is putting your health at risk is to get a tape measure and measure your waist (below your ribcage and just above your belly button). Ideally, your waist should be less than 32 inches. Over 35 inches is thought to pose significant health risks.
2 Eat A Cancer-Protective Diet While it has been shown that the best approach is to eat a balanced diet that's low in fat and sugar, there are also certain foods which contain specific cancer- protective properties in the form of antioxidants. The best way to increase your antioxidant intake is to eat between five and 10 portions of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables per day -- see antioxidant food list and recipe, right.
3 Be Drink Aware The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. The reason for this is that alcohol consumption increases oestrogen levels in the body, which is the hormone that influences breast cancer. You should realistically aim to have at least two totally alcohol-free days a week and make sure you stay within the recommended limit of units per week -- 14 units is the safe limit for women, which is about seven glasses of wine.
4 Get Active It's widely accepted that exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer, particularly when paired with healthy eating. And don't worry that it has to be vigorous -- moderate exercise, such as walking briskly for 30 minutes five times per week, will have a beneficial impact. But that is a minimum, the more you do, the more you can reduce the risk. In addition, cancer survivors who are active may have less risk of cancer recurrence compared to those who are more sedentary.
5 Limit Your Exposure To Toxins Research is currently being done to understand possible environmental influences on breast cancer risk. There are over 10,000 registered chemicals that have oestrogen-like effects on the body, in addition to being toxic and carcinogenic. These environmental oestrogens are called xenoestrogens. It's thought that a reduction in exposure to xenoestrogens could lower the risk of breast cancer. Some simple ways to decrease your exposure are to avoid tobacco smoke, use chemical-free toiletries and cleaning products and choose organic foods.