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Breast cancer: 5 tips to prevent disease in men and women

Pink October raises awareness on breast cancer, which leads death rate in women around the world. Learn some prevention tips both for men and women

By the end of 2018, 59,700 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in Brazil alone. According to INCA (the Brazilian National Cancer Institute José Alencar Gomes da Silva), cancer incidence rate goes as up as 56.33 cases per 100 thousand women. What if you or someone you love were diagnosed with the condition?

The Pink October movement started in the 90’s in the United States, where many of the country’s states already campaigned individually for awareness on breast cancer, and also for breast screening in the month of October.

Later on, as approved by the American Congress, the month was officially adopted as the month for breast cancer prevention. Other countries followed suit to warn women and government bodies about the importance of early diagnosing breast cancer. The disease hits about 156 women a day in Brazil.

Several events take place this month with the purpose of sharing information, raising awareness, providing access to diagnosis and treatment services and also to help in reducing the death rate. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, breast cancer leads death rate among women worldwide.

Breast Cancer in young women and men

Doctor Ana Carolina Salles, clinical oncologist at Hospital Santa Lúcia de Brasília (Hospital Santa Lúcia of Brasília), specialist in breast cancer, warns that men can also be struck by breast cancer, as both genders have breast tissues. According to data by the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is 100 times less common among men than among women. Among men, incidence is 1 case per 1,000 individuals.

“For breast cancer in men, chances are that it is hereditary cancer, which is related to gene mutations inherited in BRCA1 and BRC2 genes,” says the oncologist. “Moreover, aging, alcohol abuse and obesity may increase risk of cancer in men.”

As for women under 35 years-old, breast cancer is uncommon, though not rare, says Carolina. “In most cases involving young patients, there’s gene mutation. That’s why it’s important that women, regardless of their age, perform breast self-exam and look for signs.”

How to prevent it?

The good news is that about 30% of breast cancer cases can be prevented by adopting healthy habits. Doctors Thainá Alves Malhão and Luciana Grucci Maya at INCA’s Division for Nutrition, Food, Physical Activity and Cancer, explain:

1. Practice regular physical activities

Regular physical activities can reduce your body fat, balance hormone levels, lower inflammation and strengthen your immune system, reducing the risk of breast cancer.

2. Eat healthily

It helps to control body weight and prevents many types of cancer. Organic food is known to inhibit cancerous compounds from entering cells; plus, it repairs disrupted DNA when aggression is already underway. If cells have been changed and DNA repair was not possible, some compounds cause their death, stopping a disorderly multiplication. Consumption of ultra-processed food (soda, juice in cartons, puffed snacks, sandwich cookies, ready meals, dairy beverages and instant noodles) are manufacturing formulations that lead to overweight and  increase the risk of developing at least 15 types of cancer, including breast cancer.

3. Keep optimum body weight

In addition to being associated with chronic inflammatory status, overweight directly impacts circulating hormones, such as insulin and sexual hormones, building up an environment that may lead to developing breast cancer.

4. Avoid alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption favors the development of breast cancer. There are no safe levels of alcohol consumption and, the greater the consumption, the greater the risk of developing the disease.

5. Breastfeeding

Evidence that breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer is related to the effects in the mother and not in the infant. Likely biological mechanisms involved in this protecting effect are related to highly exfoliation of breast tissue, changes in breast structure, intense renewal of cells around the region, and reduction of exposure time to estrogen and other hormones during the period of menstrual cycle absence.

Risk factors

INCA warns that breast cancer doesn’t have a single cause. Age is one of the greatest risk factors, as 4 out of 5 cases occur after the age of 50. However, other circumstances may trigger the disease:

1. Environmental and behavioral factors

- Obesity and overweight
- Sedentarism
- Alcohol consumption
- High exposure to radiation

2. Reproduction and hormone history factors

- First menstruation before 12
- Be childless
- First pregnancy after 30
- No breastfeeding
- Menopause after 55
- Use of hormonal contraception
- Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy

3. Hereditary and genetic factors

- Family history of ovarian cancer
- Cases of breast cancer in family
- Family history of breast cancer in men
- Gene mutation, especially in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes

Source: INCA