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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: All You Need to Know About Breast Cancer and How to Lower Your Risk

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Not only is breast cancer the most common cancer globally, it’s also the most common cancer in the UK. Around one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some stage. 

Breast cancer diagnoses have increased overall in females in the UK since the early 1990s; rates in 25–49s have increased by 17%, and in 50–64s have seen an increase by 13%.

According to a new poll commissioned by the World Cancer Research Fund, less than half (47%) of Brits know that not doing enough physical activity increases cancer risk. Other findings revealed that only three in five (59%) are aware that having an unhealthy diet and cancer are linked, and from those that answered, 18–24s and over 55 are the least aware.

As with all cancers, the risk of developing breast cancer differs for each person, but it’s important to be aware of the risk factors that can increase your risk. 

What are the risk factors?

The following risk factors increase your risk of breast cancer

  • Living with overweight or obesity.
  • Weight gain in adulthood.
  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Not doing enough physical activity.
  • Not breastfeeding if you have a baby and are able to.

There are also some risk factors you can’t control

  • Your age – your risk increases as you get older.
  • Your height – taller women are at greater risk.
  • Greater weight at birth can increase the risk of premenopausal breast cancer.

How can you lower your risk?

Be more active

It’s recommended that people do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week. If you aren’t currently active, gradually increase how much you do. Any amount of physical activity is good for your health, and even gardening and household chores count as moderate-intensity activity, so you might be doing more than you think already.

Maintain a healthy weight

To maintain a healthy weight, it’s important to be more physically active and eat a healthy, balanced diet based around plant-based foods like fruit, vegetables, pulses (like chickpeas and lentils), wholegrains (like wholemeal bread and brown rice), nuts and seeds. 

Avoid drinking alcohol

For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink any alcohol at all, as there’s strong evidence that drinking alcohol increases the risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer. Some tips on reducing your intake include opting for the smallest serving size or diluting alcoholic drinks with a low-calorie mixer.

If you can, breastfeed your baby

If you can, breastfeeding is good for your baby’s health and can also help protect you against breast cancer.

Living with and beyond breast cancer

We know how hard it is for people battling cancer to get the appropriate nutritional support, so we have launched our Nutrition and Living with Cancer Helpline. Oncology specialist dietitians staff it and provide the most up-to-date, evidence-based information and support on nutrition for people living with and beyond cancer. This will help more people get the vital nutrients needed for cancer treatment and recovery.

Answering key questions about diet and physical activity during cancer treatment

Following a cancer diagnosis, it can be challenging to navigate all the information about diet that’s out there, even with support from a dietitian. We’re here to help with an online hub of frequently asked questions to support people living with and beyond cancer. We answer people’s key questions about what to eat following a diagnosis and how to deal with certain treatment side effects, such as taste changes.

Adopting healthier habits

To support people in adopting healthy habits and to lower their cancer risk, the World Cancer Research Fund has launched its eight-week behaviour change programme, Activ8, which runs all year round, and people can join at any time.

From making healthier food and drink choices to being more active in different ways, the programme is designed to be as easy and inspiring as possible while still fitting into people’s busy schedules.

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