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Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women worldwide. According to WHO estimates, 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020 and 685,000 died worldwide. By the end of 2020, 7.8 million women had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past five years, making it the most common cancer in the world. In India, the lifetime risk of breast cancer is one in twenty-eight women. It is higher for urban women (1 in 22) than for the rural group (1 in 60).

Breast cancer is curable and the chances of survival are increased if it is detected at an early stage. In addition, it affects younger age groups more often – 25 to 50 years of age account for almost 50% of cases. In India, the survival rate for breast cancer is low because the disease is diagnosed at a later stage. The only way to do this is to know how to recognize it and get an early diagnosis. Although there is no evidence that a healthy lifestyle can prevent breast cancer, it is believed that reducing exposure to risk factors and adopting healthier habits can help reduce the risk.

Obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, family history of breast cancer, gene mutations, reproductive history (age of onset of menstruation and first pregnancy), tobacco use, and postmenopausal hormone therapy are some of the factors that increase the risk of breast cancer. Stress, lack of exercise and other lifestyle factors are also linked to the development of breast cancer.

In addition to using mammograms and other acceptable measures to detect breast cancer, you can adjust several aspects of your lifestyle to maintain good health and reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, such as:

Exercise: Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your health and reduce your risk of breast cancer. Physically active people are less likely to develop breast cancer, as well as other malignancies and disorders such as heart disease and osteoporosis. You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week to reap these health benefits. If you are new to fitness or have not exercised for a long time, start slowly and gradually progress to longer sessions.

Stop drinking alcohol: Alcohol consumption is strongly correlated with breast cancer, and women who drink frequently have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce the consumption of alcohol.

• Balanced nutrition: Your chances of preventing breast cancer are increased if you eat right. It is recommended to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Consider eating foods high in antioxidants. Berries, goji berries, carrots, squash, pumpkin, beets, sweet potatoes, walnuts, leafy greens, mushrooms, pomegranates and seaweed are the foods with the highest antioxidant content. Increased intake of vitamin D may also reduce the risk of cancer. Vitamin D is present in some foods, including egg yolks and wild salmon. The most common source of vitamin D, however, is exposure to the sun.

• Quit smoking: One of the main causes of a number of cancers, including breast cancer, is tobacco use. According to research, women who smoke have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer. The risk is 35% higher in women who started smoking before their first pregnancy and continued for more than 20 years than in those who never smoked.

• Maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause: Physical activity can help prevent breast cancer by reducing body fat, which is a risk factor for the disease. Either reduce your calorie intake or increase your calorie expenditure to lose weight

• Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding lowers the risk of cancer for both you and your baby. By suppressing ovulation, breastfeeding can also help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer

• Go to review: When a woman is screened for breast cancer, she is checked for symptoms and early signs. Screening is used for early detection of malignant tumors. Early stage cancer is easier to treat than advanced stage cancer. A mammogram, a unique series of X-rays of the breast, is used to screen for breast cancer. According to research, women who get regular mammograms after age 40 have a 10-25% lower risk of dying from breast cancer than those who don’t.

Breast self-examination, which every woman should start doing regularly after age 30, is the easiest way to detect breast cancer early.

The author is an Associate Consultant in Medical Oncology, Cauvery Hospital, Chennai

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