Healthy mom and daughter thanks to Alive and Kicking Medical CentresWalking on the beach to enjoy life and keep fitHappy healthy family thanks to Bundilla Clinic doctors and nursesCelebrating life with caring GP attention at Brightwater Medical CentreSurfing Sunshine Coast waves thanks to great medical care from Alive & Kicking

Curve Lurve - Breast Awareness and Breast Cancer Risk Factors

October is breast cancer awareness monthBreast Awareness- What does it really mean?

Breast awareness means getting to know your breasts so you know what's normal for you and actively taking care of your pair. Once you're familiar with how your breasts look and feel, you'll be able to pick up any changes, and generally feel more confident that your pair is in perfect shape.

To be breast aware, follow this simple process and remember to repeat each month:

Look - at the shape and appearance of your breasts and nipples in the mirror with your hands by your sides. Raise your arms above your head and have another look.

Lurve - your pair. Feel all of your breasts and nipples looking for anything that isn't normal for you. Feel from your collarbone to below the bra-line and under your armpit too.

Learn - what is normal for you! Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes, so get to know your normal. See your Doctor if you notice any changes.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australian women. Breast cancer starts when a single cell in the breast begins to divide and grow in an abnormal way. There are several types of breast cancer, and cancers can be found at different stages of development and grow at different rates. This means that people can be given different treatments, depending on what will work best for them.

Luckily, advances in breast cancer means there are better treatments available and more and more people are now living long and full lives after breast cancer.

Risk Factors and Risk Reduction

While there's been a lot of research into breast cancer, the cause is still unknown. There doesn't seem to be one single cause, but rather a combination of lots of different things. We do know some things that increase the risk of getting breast cancer, but we still don't know why some people get it and some don't.

Here's what we know about what does (and what doesn't) increase the risk of getting breast cancer. Oh, and one thing to remember - Most changes in the breast are hormonal, and not related to breast cancer.

Being a woman?
Yes. Being a woman is the strongest risk factor for breast cancer. Women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men. Not all women get breast cancer, nor do all men avoid breast cancer.

Growing older?
Yes. The risk of breast cancer increases with age. About 24 per cent of new breast cancer cases diagnosed in 2006 were in women younger than 50 years; 51 per cent in women aged 50-69; and 25 per cent in women aged 70 and over. About six per cent of all new breast cancer diagnoses are in women younger than 40.

Yes. Smoking is the biggest single cause of cancer in the world and recent evidence suggests it does appear to affect the risk of breast cancer. Smoking is definitely not a good idea - it's known to increase the risk not only of lung cancer but also of cancer of the bladder, cervix, kidney, voice box (larynx), mouth, food pipe (oesophagus), pancreas, stomach and some types of leukaemia. Smoking has also been proven to increase the risk of heart disease and some respiratory conditions. Reducing or eliminating exposure to active and passive smoke benefits your health in all sorts of ways (blood pressure, circulation, lung function, reproduction and lower risk for a number of other diseases including breast cancer).

Using deodorant?
No. A hoax email first linked antiperspirants and deodorants to breast cancer. It claimed that deodorants stop the body from sweating out toxins and that these toxins build up in the lymph glands under the armpit and cause breast cancer.
Our bodies have several ways of getting rid of toxins, and while sweating is one of them, this doesn't involve the lymph glands. There has been research done on this subject, which did not find any convincing evidence that antiperspirants or deodorants cause breast cancer.

Wearing an underwire bra?
No. It's been suggested that underwire bras constrict the body's lymph glands, leading to breast cancer. This is not true. A poorly fitting bra might cause discomfort and pain, but it won't increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

Bumping or bruising the breast?
No. An injury such as falling, bumping or being hit in the chest may cause bruising and swelling to the breast (and it may hurt!). But it will not increase the risk of breast cancer.

Having my nipple pierced?
No. Nipple piercing will not increase the risk of breast cancer. However if you're considering one, it's worth noting nipple piercings may increase the risk of infection (in both boys and girls). Plus for girls, it may damage the milk ducts, which can make breastfeeding difficult later in life.

Drinking alcohol?
Yes. Alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer, so keep your alcohol consumption down. Your risk increases with each standard drink per day. This includes beer, wine and spirits.

Being physically active?
No. Active women of all ages are at reduced risk of breast cancer compared to women who do not exercise. And the more exercise you do, the bigger the benefits. Aim to do 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week, and make sure you include weight-bearing exercises in your routine.

Taking the contraceptive pill?
This one's a grey area. A small number of studies have suggested that taking the oral contraceptive pill for a long time may slightly increase the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. However, after stopping taking the pill the risk goes back to normal after 10 years. Breast cancer is rare in younger women, for whom taking the pill is still an effective way of preventing pregnancy and managing skin conditions. The majority of women who take it will not develop breast cancer. Taking the pill has also been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. So the jury's out, though if you have any concerns, talk to your GP.

Eating a healthy diet?
No. Eating a healthy diet isn't a factor that puts you at risk of breast cancer - in fact, it can actually reduce the risk of getting cancer later in life. It can also protect against heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. Also those who don't eat a healthy diet and are very overweight (obese) do have an increased risk of getting breast cancer as they get older.

Sleeping in a bra, especially one with an underwire?
No. There is no scientific proof to show that sleeping in a bra can give someone breast cancer.

Topless sun baking?
No. Sunbaking topless will not cause breast cancer. There is actual evidence that keeping vitamin D levels topped up via sun exposure may prevent breast cancer. But the bottom line is this - the skin on the breast is very delicate. That means it's more likely to get burnt than other areas of the body, and as we all know, too much exposure to ultraviolent (UV) rays can cause skin cancer. That goes for exposure to real sunlight and the light from solariums.
So, while there are benefits of sun exposure, be careful when spending time in the sun. Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, be careful never to burn and cover up with a hat, shirt and sunglasses.

Strong family history?
Yes. A woman's risk of breast cancer is two or more times greater if she has a first degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) who developed the disease before the age of 50. The younger the relative was when she developed breast cancer, the greater the risk.
That said, many women tend to over-emphasise family history as a risk factor. The fact is eight out of nine women who develop breast cancer do not have a first degree relative who's been similarly affected.

Breast implants and breast reductions?
No. Surgery to reduce, enlarge or lift your breasts does not increase your risk of breast cancer. However, do keep in mind that changing the size or shape of your breasts through surgery is a serious decision that requires careful thought. Breast implants may also make mammography technically more difficult.

Using hormone replacement therapy (HRT)?
Yes. There is a small risk between HRT and breast cancer but it applies to long-term users (over 3 years) of HRT. The risk decreases when HRT is ceased and is back to baseline 5 years after HRT is ceased.

Starting menstruation earlier or starting menopause later?
Yes. There is a correlation between early menstruation (younger than 12) and late menopause (over 55) and a small to medium increased risk in developing breast cancer. This is due to extended time exposed to oestrogen and that this increased risk suggests that hormones are involved in breast cancer risk.

Giving birth?
In fact, women who have given birth before 30 have a slightly lower risk of breast cancer than those who have not carried a pregnancy to term. Women who have given birth to at least one child at any age also have a slightly lower risk of breast cancer than women who have never had kids - and those who have had multiple births have an even lower risk.

No. Breastfeeding for at least 12 months or longer is generally regarded as being associated with a modest decrease in the risk of developing breast cancer

Adapted from Curve Lurve - please visit for more information.

Disclaimer: The above article is not intended as medical advice and is not necessarily representative of Alive and Kicking Medical Practices' beliefs or philosophies. The intention of this article is simply to share ideas, thoughts and theories currently being explored within medical and scientific communities. You should always speak with your doctor or a qualified medical practitioner before starting, ceasing, or altering medical treatment.