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Promoting lifestyle changes will reduce breast cancer risk

Promoting lifestyle changes will reduce risk of breast cancer

May 12, 2014

Promoting lifestyle changes to reduce obesity, promote regular physical activity, reduce hormone replacement therapy use and avoid high alcohol intake are the most important strategies to reduce the risk of breast cancer in New Zealand, University of Canterbury researchers say.

The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer will increase because of the increasing number of older people and increasing size of our population, the University of Canterbury’s School of Health Sciences researchers James Hayes and Professor Ann Richardson say.

New Zealand has among the highest rates of breast cancer in the world. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among New Zealand women and the second most common cause of cancer death in women, with over 2700 women diagnosed with breast cancer and over 600 women dying from it each year.

``Important modifiable lifestyle risk factors for breast cancer include alcohol, lack of physical activity, obesity, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The most important risk factor for female breast cancer is age. Similar findings have been reported for breast cancer in the United States and Germany,’’ Hayes says.

``A strategy to promote regular physical activity and reduce obesity could also have other benefits, such as reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Given the additional health benefits associated with such changes, public health interventions towards achieving them are reasonable,’’ Professor Richardson says.

Physical activity reduces the risk of breast cancer. However the type and amount of exercise required for a measurable impact on incidence rates remains unknown. It is also unclear whether there are specific ages in a woman’s life where physical activity will have a greater protective effect, Hayes says.

Physical activity does reduce the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and colon cancer. It can enhance mental health and helps maintain function and preserve independence in older adults, Professor Richardson says.

``In New Zealand, physical inactivity is the second most important cause (after tobacco) of healthy years of life lost. The increasing prevalence of obesity in New Zealand has been attributed to changing dietary and physical activity patterns, reflecting an environment that facilitates overconsumption of energy-dense foods and drinks and reduces opportunities for physical activity,’’ Professor Richardson says.

This research, undertaken at the University of Canterbury School of Health Sciences, was supported by the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation, Helen Poole and Ian McDonald Trust, and the Wayne Francis Charitable Trust.

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