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Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women, but did you know that there are ways to reduce your risk? By making some simple lifestyle changes, being breast aware and participating in screening, women of all ages can lower their risk of and prevent breast cancer.

With one in seven Australian women developing breast cancer by their 85th birthday, it’s no wonder that directly or indirectly more Australian families are likely to be affected by breast cancer than any other type of cancer.

This statistic demonstrates how common breast cancer is, but the good news is that around 40 per cent of breast cancers in Australia can be potentially prevented by making some simple lifestyle changes.

In most people, the exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, but there are a number of factors that play a role in breast cancer risk. Some of these factors are modifiable—such as lifestyle choices—and others are non-modifiable— such as age, sex, family history and genetics.

The three lifestyle factors that have been shown to reduce breast cancer risk include:

  • Being physically active – Being physically active reduces breast cancer risk in two ways—indirectly by helping women to maintain a healthy weight, and directly by the physical effects that the exercise has on our body, regardless of body composition. To reduce your breast cancer risk, aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate activity or 30 minutes of vigorous activity on five or more days per week. The more you do, the lower the risk of breast cancer. Moderate activities include brisk walking, medium-paced swimming or cycling. Vigorous activities include sports like football, squash, netball and basketball, as well as activities such as aerobics, circuit training, jogging and fast cycling.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight – There is strong evidence that carrying excess body weight increases the risk of developing post-menopausal breast cancer. In particular, excess weight around the abdomen and waist carries a greater risk than weight carried on the hips and thighs. To see if your weight is putting you at risk, check your waist circumference. A waist circumference of more than 80 cm for women increases the risk of breast cancer, and the greater the waist circumference, the higher the cancer risk. Maintaining a healthy weight is about getting the balance right between what you eat and drink as well as how physically active you are. Whilst maintaining a healthy weight is the long-term goal, sometimes the best place to begin is to focus on preventing any weight gain first.
  • Avoiding or limiting alcohol – Alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. The link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer is dose dependent. While even light levels of consumption are associated with breast cancer risk, the risk increases the more you drink. Alcohol is also high in calories and so are some of the mixers used to make some alcoholic drinks. Regular alcohol consumption can make it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight, so it can also indirectly increase your breast cancer risk. To reduce your risk of alcohol related cancer, limit your intake of alcohol or—better still—avoid it all together.

Want to know more? Click here to listen to Cancer Council CEO, Professor Sanchia Aranda AM in conversation with award-winning comedian and creator of the ABC TV & iview documentary series On The Sauce, Shaun Micallef to discuss alcohol and cancer.

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