October is breast cancer month, an annual health campaign to increase awareness of the disease. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women and it occurs when cells in the breast tissue change and keep reproducing. These abnormal cells normally form a tumour by clustering together. The tumour becomes cancerous when these cells invade other parts of the breast or when they spread to other areas of the body. Breast cancer normally starts in the milk-producing glands of the breast (lobules) or the tube-shaped ducts that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple.
Being aware of the symptoms and going for screenings are important ways of reducing the risks of breast cancer. Most breast lumps are not cancerous however, women should visit a doctor for an examination if they notice a lump in their breasts. The first symptoms of breast cancer usually appear as an area of thickened tissue in the breast or a lump in the breast or an armpit. Symptoms of breast cancer can include:
- A rash around or on one of the nipples.
- Discharge from a nipple, possibly containing blood.
- A sunken or inverted nipple.
- Peeling, flaking or scaling of the skin on the breast or nipple.
- A change in the size or shape of the breast.
- Pitting or redness of the skin of the breast.
- Pain in the armpits or breast that does not change with your monthly cycle.
The exact causes of breast cancer remain unclear, but some risk factors make it more likely to occur. These risk factors include:
Weight: Women who are overweight or develop obesity after menopause have a higher risk of developing breast cancer possibly due to a high sugar intake or increased estrogen levels.
Family History: Having a close blood relative with breast cancer increases your risks of developing the disease. The risks of cancer can double if a woman has a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer.
Alcohol consumption: Women who drink alcohol are more likely to develop breast cancer than non-drinkers. The risk of breast cancer rises with a greater intake of alcohol. Alcohol is known to increase the risk of other cancers too.
Exposure to radiation: A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer may be higher than normal if she previously had radiation for any other disease.
Dense breast tissue: Women with more dense breasts are more likely to receive a diagnosis of breast cancer. ₁
Gert Coetzee, pharmacist and diet pioneer who founded The Diet Everyone Talks About encourages women to look out for breast cancer symptoms and how to combat them. Below he shares a round-up of foods which added to your diet can decrease your chances of getting breast cancer:
Walnuts: Eating walnuts on a regular basis can help you reduce your risks of breast cancer. Walnuts contain powerful plant chemicals which include omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants such as gamma tocopherol, a form of Vitamin E, phytosterols and melatonin.
Broccoli: Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli can help you beat breast cancer. This is because broccoli contains an anti-inflammatory compound known as sulforaphane. Sulforaphane has been found to eliminate breast cancer causing cells and also inhibits the growth of human breast cancer cells.
Salmon: Salmon is a fatty fish that is rich in healthy fats, mainly omega – 3 fatty acids. These fats have been linked to reducing the risks of breast cancer.
Turmeric: This root spice contains the compound curcumin which is an antioxidant polyphenol that has chemo-preventative properties. As chronic inflammation is a major risk factor for the development and progression of cancer, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties play a major role in reducing the risks of cancer.
Blueberries: Blueberries are packed with antioxidants which makes them effective anti-cancer agents due to their ability to prevent anti-inflammatory molecules from being formed. ₂