4 natural ways to prevent breast cancer
By Dr Amir Farid Ishak
Maintaining normal weight
Another study reported that women who are overweight or obese with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer (which means two-thirds of all breast cancers) have a higher risk of recurrence even though they received the best available cancer treatment.
Obesity is associated with about a 30 per cent higher risk of recurrence and a nearly 50 per cent higher risk of death despite the best cancer treatments.
The authors suggest that the extra fat tissues cause hormonal changes and inflammation that induce the higher recurrence despite adequate medical therapy (reported in CANCER journal of the American Cancer Society). The study was done across the US and was supported by the US National Cancer Institute.
Those who are overweight/obese are already known to face a higher risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung disease, joint disease, and many types of cancer (oesophagus, breast, uterine endometrium, colon, rectum, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, gallbladder, and possibly other cancer types).
However, in my opinion, the risk for cancer (and possibly other diseases too) is highly misunderstood and underestimated.
For breast cancer, the evidence now shows that obesity only increases the risk in post-menopausal women, but the offending weight gain could have started when the women were younger. Since cancer is a slow-growing phenomenon (by the time the earliest stage of cancer is detected, it has probably undergone many years of mutations and abnormal cell divisions), we only see the results of what began many years before.
Thus, although the added risk (due to obesity) is seen only after menopause (80 per cent of breast cancers occur in post-menopausal women), the prevention should start much earlier.
Women should maintain normal weight when they are young to reduce breast cancer risk, and to improve their survival should they be unlucky to get breast cancer (the risk in Malaysia is one in 19).
A study of over 3,000 women (ages between 20-98) engaged in at least 10 hours of exercise per week showed they had about 30 per cent lower risk of developing breast cancer. The benefit was strongest among postmenopausal women.
Other studies had shown that weight loss through regular exercise increases the benefit further, but weight gain can nullify some of the benefits obtained through exercise.
Physically active women who gain more than 5kg after menopause are still at a higher risk of developing breast cancer, though it is lower than for those who gain a similar amount of weight but do not exercise.
Obese women who exercise have about the same risk as normal weight women who do not exercise at all. The best is to maintain normal weight and do lots of exercise.