Survival rates vary worldwide and much of this variation is due to late detection. The later the detection, the later the stage of breast cancer and therefore the lower the survival rate, despite more intensive therapy. Below are some steps that can be taken to minimise your risk of a late diagnosis.

Professor Justus Apffelstaedt, Associate Professor at the University of Stellenbosch and Head of the Breast Clinic: Tygerberg Hospital shares suggestions should benefit women from as young as 20 years old. 

Adjust your lifestyle

According to a recent study, there are four main lifestyle choices which could dramatically lower the risk of developing breast cancer. These include maintaining a healthy weight, ascertaining risk when taking hormone therapy, not smoking and drastically minimizing your alcohol intake.

Breast cancer risk is directly proportional to alcohol consumption. This has been known for a long time but it must be borne in mind that the relationship between alcohol and breast cancer is a very complex one. There are different types of alcohol as there are various ingredients added to alcoholic beverages – both of which have to be taken into consideration. Furthermore, the way alcohol is metabolized is genetically determined and highly individual; therefore, the part of the risk of breast cancer caused by alcohol consumption is not only dependent on the quantity consumed but also on the individual metabolism of alcohol.

We all know that alcohol consumption in large quantities is not good for you. But one should also work with the assumption that people are going to have an element of unhealthy living in their lifestyles – we are not all perfect. 

So, best is to stick to the safest path of moderation of a maximum of one glass of wine a day. It may increase your breast cancer risk, but it may also have some health benefits and less toxic repercussions than some of the other lifestyle vices that we all have

Another important lifestyle consideration is maintaining a healthy weight. This can be achieved by staying active and being conscious about what you eat. Make sure you’re exercising at least 4 times per week, better yet try and move a little every day. Take a look at your shopping list, does it read like a menu straight out of the Mediterranean? Think leafy greens and lots of fresh vegetables, healthy fats such as nuts, fish and olive oil. Buy your food as close to source as possible and try not to cook all the nutrients out of it.

One must remember that this type of lifestyle adjustment isn’t just about avoiding breast cancer. These 4 main lifestyle choices are relevant for everyone - male, female, young and old - it’s your ticket to a healthier, happier existence.

Avoid hormone treatments

Hormone treatment over long periods may increase the risk of breast cancer. Studies have found that women have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer while they're taking birth control pills that contain both oestrogen and progestin. If taking hormone treatments, try to use the lowest dose available and consult your health practitioner on alternate options.

Breastfeed

Outside of the general health benefits breastfeeding provides for a baby, studies have shown that women who breastfeed in their early thirties are less at risk from breast cancer than those who avoid breastfeeding. In addition, a woman who breastfeeds for longer periods of time, till the child is two years old for example, is also further reducing her risk of breast cancer. When a woman breastfeeds, she menstruates less which means she has less oestrogen levels in her system. By lowering oestrogen levels you are decreasing your risk of breast cancer.  

Regular check ups

Women from the ages of 20 to 39 should know their family history of breast cancer, schedule a yearly consultant with a professional with a special interest in breast health (including a breast examination) and should conduct breast self-examinations monthly. Women over 40 should know about the latest advance in breast cancer treatments and technologies, should have an annual mammogram, clinical breast examination and conduct breast self-examinations monthly. 

Source: World Cancer Research Fund International, Breast Cancer Statistics, http://www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/data-specific-cancers/breast-cancer-statistics