Life changes advocated to prevent breast cancer

Katie Wylie - The Press |

A growing number of New Zealand women will die unless they make radical lifestyle changes at a young age, a leading Auckland breast surgeon says.

Dr Trevor Smith, speaking during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, said New Zealand's breast cancer strategy was "an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff" approach, which focused on screening, treatment and searching for a cure rather than messages of prevention through improved lifestyles.

"The trouble at the moment is that we keep on focusing on finding cancer and we keep on focusing on better treatments, but each year the number of women getting breast cancer in the country goes up," he said.

About 2400 New Zealand women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Of these about 600 die a number that has been relatively static since 1995, New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation figures show.

Smith said New Zealand had one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the world, and women who moved here from lower-risk countries were still prone to New Zealand's high rate.

This suggested breast cancer prevalence was strongly linked to environment and lifestyle.

In a new book entitled Breast Care, he recommends women:

  • Have a lean weight.
  • Regularly exercise.
  • Avoid sugary drinks and energy-dense foods.
  • Eat more vegetables, fruit, whole grains and pulses.
  • Limit red meat, alcohol and salty or processed foods.
  • Be smokefree.
  • Have children young and breastfeed as long as possible.

"It just doesn't have the street credibility of a new drug or a new breakthrough, and yet the science behind it is quite compelling and clear," Smith said.

International research suggested such changes could reduce the incidence of breast cancer by between 30 and 40 per cent.

Smith called on interest groups and the Ministry of Health to promote a unified message on the importance of lifestyle changes.

"We need to do better than what we've been doing each year because it isn't really making much of a dent in the problem," he said.

Breast Cancer Foundation spokeswoman Suzanne McNicol said enough was being done to educate New Zealanders about breast cancer, including the promotion of healthy lifestyle choices.

Free breast screening, introduced by the ministry in 1998, had inflated numbers because more women were being diagnosed and more cancers detected. "Yes, the incidence of breast cancer is on the rise but that is because more women are being diagnosed," she said.



Breast Care Book

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advice on all aspects
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