HEALTH | An investigation into the rising rates of breast cancer in Australia

Despite all the campaign and fundraising, breast cancer rates are still on the rise in Australia. Here’s the latest on what we known and what we can all do.

This year 19,000 Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s one in seven women compared with one in eight only last year. In 1982, the rate was one in 12 women.

The latest rapid rise in a critical issue for the National Breast Cancer Foundation and right now has our experts scratching their heads.

“There is a lot we don’t know and that’s why research is crucial in crucial in identifying why these rates have significantly gone up”, says Dr Chris Pettgrew, director of research investment for NBCF.

Dr Pettigrew says an aging population, health and lifestyle factors such as obesity and better detection have all contributed to an increase in breast cancer diagnosis rates.

Thankfully, survival rates are also on the rise thanks to early detection and better treatment options. Currently, the number of women who will survive a breast cancer diagnosis beyond five years is 91 per cent.

The NBCF is on a mission to make sure that no one dies from breast cancer by 2030. Given that we are still losing eight Australian women to breast cancer every day. It’s a big goal. And more funds are urgently needed to allow for more game-chanching research to take place.

As any academic known, it’s hard to get studies funded and many good ideas remain unresearched when there aren’t enough funds to go round.

“Our data shows that whilst we have come so far in improving survival rates and have saved over 44,000 lives over the past 25 years, if we do not receive enough donations to continue our life-saving research, an additional 30,000 Australians will lose their life to this disease by 2030”, Dr Pettigrew says.

“To put that into perspective, that’s 76,000 Australians who would lose a mother, daughter, sister, or wife in the next 10 years. We’re here to change these stats with the help of the Australian community”.

The good news is up to 25 per cent of new cases of breast cancer may be avoidable. And there are things we can do to lower our risk of diagnosis while we wait for researchers to find a cure.

“It’s more about contributing lifestyle choices and risk factors than one or two definitive ‘causes’, Dr Pettigrew says.

“We know that certain lifestyle choices and risk factors can influence your risk developing breast cancer, but there are also non-modifiable risk factors, such as family history or breast density that can impact your breast cancer risk. It is the combination of all of these many factors in any individual that makes up their personal risk for developing cancer”.

While you can’t do anything to change non-modifiable risk factors like breast density and your genetics, you  can still reduce your risk of breast cancer by making healthy lifestyle choices and managing modifiable risk factors.

“Some of the main things you can do is reduce your alcohol intake, not smoke, exercise regularly, and  maintain a healthy weight and diet”, Dr Pettigrew says.

“Unfortunately, drinking alcohol is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, and with breast cancer returning. Currently, there does not appear to be a “safe” level of regular alcohol consumption when it comes to increasing breast cancer risk. The easiest way to think about it is that the more you drink, the more your risk increases”.

But he says it’s important to remember that not just one thing alone causes breast cancer, which is why ensuring you have good overall health is the best strategy to lower cancer risk.

“That includes exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and reducing alcohol intake”, he says.

Women who have a family history of breast cancer can speak to their GP about getting regular screening or genetic testing.

If you are worried about your risk of developing cancer, see your doctor to discuss any concerns. And if you would like to help raise urgently needed funds for game-changing research, you could host a Pink Ribbon Breakfast this month.

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