Breast cancer. It’s closer to home than you might think. For some, too close. It’s one of the most common female cancers in the Bailiwick and many of us have been touched by the condition either directly or through family or friends with a diagnosis. When it comes to breast cancer, and your health in general, there are some risk factors you can’t change, like those linked to genetics and ethnicity. But there are also many lifestyle choices that you can make, as well as practices you can build into your self care regime to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer in the future.
We reached out to Sharon Treacy, Nurse Consultant at Guernsey’s Breast Screening Unit for guidance. Here’s what she shared with us.
Breast cancer is one of the most common female cancers in the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and it’s a misconception that it only affects women in later life. Yes, it’s true that you are more likely to develop breast cancer as you get older, but younger women - and men - are also at risk. With 84 new breast cancer diagnoses in the Bailiwick last year alone, Making Breast Awareness Part Of Your Self Care Routine is a necessity. Although these figures are representative of national statistics, with the additional reassurance that survival rates are higher here in Guernsey than they are in Jersey and in England, they highlight that you cannot take breast health for granted.
The causes of breast cancer are hugely complex and it’s not entirely clear why one woman will develop breast cancer and another will not. We do know that around 5% of breast cancer cases are linked to inherited or altered genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, but most are linked to a complex combination of hormonal, environmental and lifestyle factors. This means that whilst you may not be able to influence all of those factors, there are some changes you can make to your everyday life that could help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
Studies have looked at the link between breast cancer and diet and lifestyle, and although there are no definite conclusions, there is evidence that there are reduced risks of breast cancer if you adopt healthy lifestyle habits. This includes prioritising self care and looking after both your physical and mental wellbeing.
But let's be honest. If you can take a few simple steps to lessen the worry of breast cancer, and improve your health in general, it’s got to be a good thing, right? So read on for some of the ways that you can take control and lower the risks.
Make time to look after yourself and care for your body. This can help you to feel more in tune with your body's natural rhythms and recognise changes in your general wellbeing - in this case your breast health - at an early stage. This includes being breast self-aware and knowing how your breasts normally look and feel, so you can spot any changes early on.
Checking your breasts regularly should be part of your self care routine. If you're not quite sure where to start, take a look at How To Examine Your Breasts Properly by Dr Liz O'Riordan. Taking these preventative steps to understand what’s normal for your body will help you to detect any potentially abnormal developments in the early stages of change and take proactive steps to look after your health.
Be more active in your everyday life, from exercising regularly to simply walking more and sitting less. Incorporating 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week, is the generally accepted recommendation for improved health and a reduced risk of developing breast cancer. The key element here is finding something that you enjoy. Join a walking group, sign up for a yoga class or maybe try something new, like ‘Bouncing’.
Look after your mental health and find ways to destress. There are many epidemiological studies suggesting stress influences the neuro endocrine and the immune system. Much of the research can be challenged, however there is growing evidence that there are links between stress and cancer. So take time for yourself and make time for self care.
If your stress levels are affecting your health or your day to day life and you feel that you cannot control them, then please make sure that you reach out to a professional. It's important to ask for help.
Enjoy a healthy diet which is packed full of natural and unprocessed produce, including lots of wholegrains, pulses, vegetables and fruits. Limit foods which are high in sugar and avoid processed meats if you can. Red meat should also be limited as well as products which are high in salt. Following these guidelines should in turn help you to maintain a healthy weight, which has also been shown to reduce breast cancer risk.
There are some lifestyle habits that we all know we should rethink. One may be to limit our alcohol intake. If you need support and information, here’s how to recognise if you’re drinking too much, and what you can do about it. Smoking is a no-go area for all cancers, and breast cancer is no exception. There is support available locally if you need help to stop smoking.
If you have questions about your breast health, ask your healthcare professional. There really is no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to your health and the more informed you are, the better choices you can make. So take ownership of your body and your health and find our what you need to know to take care of your body.
If you are aged between 50-75, you’ll be invited for breast screening every 2 years. Take advantage of the free screening programme that’s available to you here in Guernsey. Although no two cases of breast cancer are the same, as a general rule the earlier breast cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. So taking a proactive approach to breast health is key.
It is important to remember that our bodies are changing all the time, so don’t panic if you do see or feel a change in your breasts. Most tissue changes are not cancer, but if you do discover changes in your breasts you need to have this checked out by a professional. You should check with your GP straight away if you notice anything unusual or concerning, and if you are invited to attend breast screening, just do it!
Guernsey has a dedicated breast screening unit with state of the art screening equipment that can detect abnormalities in the breast tissue that may be too small for you or your doctor to see or feel. It’s free and it only takes around 10 minutes. If you’ve got concerns about your breast health, make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible, or contact the Breast Screening Unit for advice.