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We know some of the causes of breast cancer. But what’s missing?

 

Surely environmental factors must play a part – in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink CREDIT: PA

Surely environmental factors must play a part – in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink CREDIT: PA

by Judith Potts
LONDON, 23 October 2017 • We have reached the middle of ‘pink’ October, during which the charities work overtime to raise awareness of breast cancer and funds for research. With the enormous media coverage – not just during Breast Cancer Awareness Month – it always seems astonishing that people are still unaware of the symptoms of breast cancer. The myriad causes – about which there is still controversy – are, therefore, even less likely to be known or considered.
Top of the list is whether or not the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) adds to the chance of developing breast cancer. The answer changes from year to year. The breast cancer prevention charity, Prevent Breast Cancer (which used to be called Genesis), sums up the current understanding like this:
HRT use increases the risk of breast cancer for current users – particularly with oestrogen/progesterone combinations. Once HRT has been stopped, the risk reduces back down to the average risk over the following few years. The risk rises with the more years of HRT use.
For women who have never used HRT, the risk of breast cancer is 45 per 1000 women between the ages of 50 and 70 years. The additional numbers of breast cancers diagnosed between these ages per 1000 women who began to use HRT at age 50 is an extra two cases (after 5 years use) 6 cases (after 10 years use) or 12 cases (15 years use).
As a general rule, women for whom breast cancer risk is a concern should limit their use of HRT to perhaps no more than about 5 years.
That seems reasonably clear – but no one makes the decision for you. It is entirely up to the individual and if – like me – you decide to use HRT for 15 years, you live with a little nagging doubt about how much it influenced the onset of breast cancer.
However, there are so many other factors and possible causes. Ruling out a genetic link. Prevent Breast Cancer argue that (for women) the risk is raised or lowered depending on many factors – some of which are out of your control.
A mammogram
Surely environmental factors must play a part – in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink CREDIT: PA
They include menarche, which is the age at which a woman’s periods started, with a seven per cent reduction in risk per year after the age of 12; the age you reach the menopause (the younger the better); the age at which you have your first child. The number of children you have and the time you spend breast feeding both lower the risk.
Like the above, too many X-rays, previous breast lumps, Hodgkin’s Disease and breast density are risk factors, but not a personal decision. Whereas too many glasses of wine, carrying too much weight, smoking, taking HRT and the contraceptive pill are now firmly on the risk list.
Following my breast cancer experience, on the advice of the nutritionist at the Breast Cancer Haven I left dairy food and red meat behind and began to eat more of a Mediterranean diet. A western diet is also mentioned as a risk, yet it is so often ignored by doctors as an important role in treating cancer or helping to prevent its recurrence.
I have always suspected that there must be something else involved in the cases of breast cancer in so many people that I know – and have known – than any of the factors recognised officially. A friend who died recently had lead an entirely exemplary life – no bad lifestyle choices were made – yet breast cancer ended it far too soon, in her early fifties.
Surely environmental factors must play a part – in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. Whilst this is not verified by Prevent Breast Cancer, it is the belief of Breast Cancer UK that there are too many carcinogenic, hazardous and endocrine-disrupting chemicals in everyday products. The charity supports scientific research into links between these chemicals and breast cancer.
Emma Wrafter, Development Director of Animal Free Research UK said: “In 2016, over four million animals were used in medical research. What many people do not know is that much of the research is less effective when translated into humans and the animals are destroyed afterwards.” (-Telegraph UK)


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