Binge drinking linked to breast cancer

New Zealand Herald 4:00AM Sunday Oct 12, 2008
Rachel Grunwell

A leading surgeon says breast cancer rates could soar unless young women cut back on binge drinking - and that mammograms are being "oversold".

Dr Trevor Smith said alcohol was among the lifestyle choices that contributed towards New Zealand's having one of the highest breast cancer rates in the world.

He called on the Government and breast cancer groups to "radically change" the way they tackled the illness by focusing on education rather than treatment.

"Almost all funds are channelled into screening, treatment and the search for a cure, instead of educating the public that prevention is your best protection. It's astonishing."

Smith said alcohol had been proven to be carcinogenic and the risk of breast and other cancers increased with the amount consumed.

"One glass of wine a day increases your breast cancer risk by 10 per cent. And I'm talking a small glass - 100ml. Imagine what binge drinking is doing to [young women's] risk; it's massive."

About 2500 Kiwis are diagnosed with the disease each year.

Smith, who didn't mind being "a bit of a maverick" on the issue, has detailed his thoughts in a new book, Breast Care.

He told the Herald on Sunday he was critical of the Ministry of Health because it concentrated on reacting to breast cancer, rather than empowering women and the 1 per cent of men it affects, with knowledge.

Smith also said it was a "cop-out" that many in the industry took money for mammograms without also giving women information on other ways to reduce the risk.

Mammograms failed to detect 15 per cent of cancerous lumps, he said.

Smith said World Cancer Research Fund findings released last November revealed a staggering 30-40 per cent of all cancers could be "avoided" by lifestyle changes.

He also recommended women had children before their 30th birthday and breastfed for as long as possible.

Breast Cancer Foundation medical committee chairwoman Dr Belinda Scott said she believed "enough was being done" in the fight to prevent breast cancer.

Associate Health Minister Steve Chadwick said the Government had made heavy investment in prevention and screening programmes.

The Cancer Control Strategy included significant prevention activities to reduce the incidence of all cancers and addressed proven risk factors.

Smith's findings were presented to the Breast Cancer Network's meeting in May and will be in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Friday.

Holistic helping hand comforts designer

4:00AM Sunday Oct 12, 2008
Rachel Grunwell

Leading Kiwi fashion designer and breast cancer survivor Liz Mitchell has backed Trevor Smith's holistic approach to helping fight the disease.

After finding a cancerous lump six years ago, she could find little local material on the subject so ended up looking elsewhere, particularly the internet and Dr Susan Love's Breast Book.

Hailed as "the Bible for women with breast cancer", Love's book advocates combining alternative self-care advice with medical strategies.

"I'm pleased a New Zealand person has got to addressing that [topic]," Mitchell says. "A lot of people, like oncologists, are so busy and caught up with their area of expertise so they are not pushing for some things like that."

Mitchell overcame the disease after three surgeries, including a mastectomy on Boxing Day 2002, and is now coming to the end of drug therapy.

Her healthy lifestyle includes swimming, eating organic foods, and meditation.

She says she enjoys the occasional glass of wine with friends.

"I was at a breast cancer conference last year and they said walking and exercise had the strongest contribution to a positive outcome."

She says not everyone would adopt a holistic approach to cancer prevention and treatment but hopes for wider education on the topic.

"It is better to act early, take responsibility for your health," she says, warning that finding out you have cancer is "terrifying".

"You think you are going to die, it's such a fearful time... it's one of those things where a doctor can't tell you if you are going to survive or not."


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