Breast cancer, nicknamed the Pink Killer, is one of the most prevalent malignant tumours affecting women on a global scale. According to estimates from the Hong Kong Cancer Registry, 1 in every 14 Hong Kong women faces the possibility of developing breast cancer before reaching the age of 75. Delving deeper into these stark statistics, what factors contribute to making them a high-risk group?
Based on a case-control study commissioned by the Research Office of the Food and Health Bureau and conducted by the University of Hong Kong1, all women need to be well aware of certain factors that, in addition to age-related risks, may increase the risk of breast cancer. They include having an immediate family member with breast cancer, being diagnosed with benign breast disease, never having given birth or having a first-time late birth, having early menstruation, being overweight or obese, and lacking physical exercise. Let’s learn about 5 common and valuable methods to prevent breast cancer below.
5 common methods to prevent breast cancer
1. Learn to self-examine your breasts
To prevent breast cancer, it is important to self-examine your breasts. Follow these 3 simple steps:
2. Adopt a healthy diet
A balanced diet is crucial to maintaining a healthy weight, which can reduce the risk of breast cancer. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to follow the principles of the ‘Healthy Eating Pyramid’ which emphasises the consumption of adequate vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. In addition, it’s important to avoid processed meats that contain carcinogens.
3. Do not smoke
Tobacco contains a higher amount of carcinogens, and long-term inhalation can easily lead to breast cell abnormalities and trigger breast cancer. Referring to a study conducted by the Institute of Cancer Research, London2, which followed the health conditions of 100,000 women for 7 years, women who had a smoking habit had a greater chance of developing breast cancer by approximately 14%, compared to those who had never smoked. Furthermore, the earlier a woman starts smoking, the higher the risk of having cancer. Starting smoking before the age of 17 increases the risk by approximately 24%.
4. Do not drink
Alcohol has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, operating under the World Health Organization (WHO). There is sufficient evidence to confirm that alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer, oral cancer, pharyngeal and laryngeal cancer, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, and colorectal cancer. To prevent potential harm, it is advisable to limit your alcohol intake to small amounts, whether at social gatherings or other occasions.
5. Do moderate exercise
Research carried out by the World Cancer Research Fund International and the National Cancer Institute3 tells us that exercise helps boost our immune system and reduces body fat, which can lower the risk of breast cancer. Ideally, it is recommended to aim for at least 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activities, such as brisk walking or stair climbing, or at least 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, such as rope skipping or dancing. If you struggle to find time for specific exercises, you can incorporate physical activity into your daily household chores. For instance, mopping the floor or scrubbing the bathroom enables you to achieve both your fitness goals and household tasks.
Regular check-ups for enhanced protection
Regular breast examinations are vital in preventing breast cancer. Women who are at high risk, in particular, should consult with a doctor to determine if breast X-ray examinations are recommended. As cancer often strikes without warning, it is essential to plan ahead for your health and bolster your protection. This entails having premium medical coverage that encompasses the full cost of designated hospitalisations and treatments, including targeted therapy and immunotherapy as specified non-surgical cancer therapies. Additionally, comprehensive critical illness coverage should be secured to provide immediate financial support in managing unforeseen and severe illnesses.
AXA is committed to providing appropriate protection for women at different stages of life, assisting them in overcoming current obstacles and meeting challenges with confidence, to lead a better and more fulfilling life.
1. Non-communicable Diseases Watch (March 2021): Breast Awareness and Primary Prevention of Breast Cancer, Hong Kong Department of Health and Centre for Health Protection (Chinese version only): https://www.chp.gov.hk/files/pdf/ncd_watch_march_2021_chin.pdf
2. The Institute of Cancer Research, London: https://www.icr.ac.uk/news-archive/smoking-particularly-if-started-during-adolescence-is-associated-with-an-increased-risk-of-breast-cancer-major-new-study-finds
3. The World Cancer Research Fund International and the National Cancer Institute: https://www.wcrf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Alcoholic-Drinks.pdf
The above content is reviewed by Dr Alexander Chiu - Chief Medical Officer of AXA Hong Kong and Macau.
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