Breast cancer: alcohol, weight gain lead to rise in rates; 1 in 4 cases preventable


Wednesday, 06 October, 2021

Breast cancer: alcohol, weight gain lead to rise in rates; 1 in 4 cases preventable

Breast cancer rates have increased by 50% since the 1980s due to increased alcohol consumption, weight gain, a lack of exercise and other lifestyle factors.

The most shocking part, said Mater breast and melanoma surgeon Dr Heidi Peverill, is that alcohol consumption in the time between the first period and the first pregnancy has a major impact.

“It’s a time when a lot of women are at pubs and clubs, and breast cancer prevention would be the last thing on their minds,” said Dr Peverill, who has a Masters in Oncoplastic Breast Surgery and specialises in breast cancer prevention.

“We need to start looking at behaviours, things in women’s day-to-day lives they can change. This may be increasing incidental exercise, watching your weight and choosing non-alcoholic beverages,” Dr Peverill said.

Mater Breast and Endocrine surgeon Dr Chris Pyke said some of the most powerful risk factors for breast cancer, such as family history and genetic mutations, could not be changed. “However, one in four breast cancers are potentially preventable,” he said.

More than 700 Queensland women diagnosed with breast cancer are treated at a Mater hospital or facility each year.

Dr Pyke said advances in diagnostic and treatment technologies continued to improve outcomes for patients, but prevention was always better than cure.

Dr Peverill said educating young women on risks and early detection would help reduce the skyrocketing rate of breast cancer in Australia.

“When consuming alcohol, oestrogen does not metabolise well in women and high levels of the hormone circulate their body, contributing to increased cancer risk,” she said.

“Women have to make the right choice for themselves, but they need to have all the information to do that.”

Brisbane mum Kymme Davey. Image credit: Mater.

Brisbane mum Kymme Davey, 36, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March, two weeks before giving birth to her son Samuel at 35 weeks into her pregnancy.

Davey said as a young adult, breast cancer was not on her radar. “It wasn’t something I actively considered,” she said.

“Drinking and partying is part of being a young person and enjoying yourself. It’s the lack of awareness more than anything which needs to be raised among young women.

“I thought breast cancer mostly affected older women in their 50s and 60s.”

Up to 50% of women diagnosed find their breast cancers themselves, according to Mater Health. This means self-examination and becoming familiar with your breasts is vital for you to recognise any changes — it’s the key to early detection.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This video by Mater explains how you can check your breasts.

Top image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Axel Kock

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