Medical Questions » Cancer Questions » Question No. 1246
Question:Two family members have had breast cancer. How can I prevent it?
Answer:A Eighty per cent of breast cancers are termed ' oestrogen positive' . There is a high likelihood that hormone-disrupting chemicals play a major part. Diets high in meat and saturated fat may mean more exposure to such chemicals, which can store in body fat. Other associated risks are oral contraceptive use, hormone replacement therapy containing oestrogens or synthetic progestins, a high percentage of body fat, alcohol consumption above one or two drinks a day, smoking, a low intake of fruit and vegetables, exposure to herbicides and pesticides and low dietary fibre. The chances are that family risk relates not to genes, but to similar diets and lifestyle factors.

That said, a small percentage of women do have genes that increase the likelihood of breast cancer. These include the BRCA1, BRCA2 and CERB genes. The genes themselves don' t cause cancer, but encourage growth of breast cells if they are activated. If they are over-activated this can lead to the overgrowth of cells, resulting in cancer cells. This activation can be triggered by hormone replacement therapy, or by dioxins, PCBs or DDT, which are examples of oestrogen-mimicking pollutants that might be found, say, in non-organic meat.

Therefore, it' s important to eat loads of fruit and vegetables, organic whenever possible. Betacarotene-rich vegetables such as carrots, broccoli and sweet potatoes, and fruits such as cantaloupes and apricots, are excellent choices; anything with high levels of vitamin C, such as peppers, watercress, cabbage, tomatoes, oranges and kiwi fruits, is important. It' s good to eat garlic, which clears toxins and has antioxidant properties. Choose fish instead of meat, especially mackerel, herring, trout, sardines and wild salmon that are rich in omega-3 fats, which keep your hormones, skin and brain in top condition. (Flax seeds and their oil are the best vegetarian source of omega-3 fats.) Regular consumption of beans and soya in, say, tofu or soya milk, means you' ll keep your isoflavones topped up, which will lower risk. Or you can take daily isoflavone supplements.

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