World Cancer Day: promoting breast cancer awareness

Drinking about 3.5 drinks a day increases your risk of developing breast cancer by 1.5 times. That’s not negligible! Photo: Pexels

(Tina Dawn/ VM Med) –– With World Cancer Day commemorated only a few days ago, on February 4, it’s important to use the annual event to raise awareness about the disease and how far and wide it impacts people. Adopted in 2000 at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium in Paris, World Cancer Day aims to promote research, prevent cancer, improve patient services, and a global understanding of the fight against cancer.

World Cancer Day is a good opportunity to raise awareness about the disease and remind everyone that cancer delays can have life-threatening consequences. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2020 showed that just a 4-week delay in cancer treatment increases the risk of death by 10 percent. Early detection and treatment are often the keys to beating a cancer diagnosis.

Breast cancer impacts women drastically

Breast cancer especially, is one of the most common forms of cancer in women. Constant vigilance, annual check-ups and monthly breast self-examinations are therefore more important than ever.

Each year, more than 22,000 women develop breast cancer in Canada and more than 5,000 women die of the disease. Based on current diagnosis rates provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada, one in nine women in Canada is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime. And the risk of developing breast cancer only increases as we get older.

With the COVID-19 pandemic entering its third year, there have been additional challenges to fighting the disease. Fearing the spread of the coronavirus, many people chose to stay home and delayed their annual check-ups or mammograms, resulting in an increase in delays in both diagnosis and treatment. Those facing a cancer diagnosis are also often experiencing delays in treatment because of significant backlogs in the healthcare system. But cancer remains a life-threatening disease that requires our attention all times–even during a pandemic.

Controllable variables

Even though the current situation remains challenging, World Cancer Day reminds us that cancer awareness can dictate much of our daily behaviour and help mitigate risk factors. While much in life is out of our control (aging, family history of cancer, certain reproductive factors like early menstruation) there’s still a lot we can personally do to reduce our risk of cancer.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, “About 4 in 10 cancer cases can be prevented through healthy living and policies that protect the health of Canadians.” That means that, while much about our health can be unpredictable and uncontrollable, many variables are absolutely within our control. It’s in our hands to take the necessary measures to reduce our risk of cancer and start making the lifestyle changes that increase our odds of a long, healthy life.

Living a smoke-free lifestyle is one major way of increasing our chances of a healthy life. Smoking is responsible for an estimated 30 percent of all cancer deaths in Canada. Being more active and eating a healthy, balanced diet has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer by 25-30 percent and helps to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, which is also key for our overall health and cancer risk.

Staying out of the sun as much as possible is another controllable variable. We all love that vitamin D and the warm feeling of the sun’s rays on our skin. But about 65 percent of melanoma cases are due to UV radiation, which essentially translates to repeated sun exposure. Incidence rates of melanoma in Canada are among the highest in the world, but we can reduce our risk of skin cancer by being smart, wearing sunscreen, covering up, noticing any changes on our skin, and catching signs of skin cancer early.

Reducing alcohol intake is a major factor

A recent study concluded that reducing alcohol can reduce our lifelong risk of cancer. Drinking about 3.5 drinks a day increases your risk of developing breast cancer by 1.5 times. That’s not negligible! Without necessarily panicking about every glass of wine that touches our lips, the study is a good reminder that reducing our overall alcohol intake throughout our lives and becoming a little more selective about when and how we drink can make a difference in the long run.

The Canadian Cancer Society encourages people to participate in Dry February and raise money for cancer research. By participating, you help to raise awareness about the link between cancer risk and alcohol, promote the idea that we can modify our alcohol consumption to reduce cancer risk, and raise funds for cancer research. You can sign up by going to the link. Even if you intend to go back to the occasional alcoholic drink after the challenge, you’ve raised awareness and money, while also benefiting from better sleep, a clearer head, and more energy.

Overall, World Cancer Day is a good opportunity to think about our health and take the necessary measures to decrease our chances of major medical issues in the future. Since 1999, the rate of new cases of breast cancer has stabilized, and death rates have steadily declined in Canada. That’s mostly due to better awareness, better screening, earlier diagnosis, and more effective treatment options. Raising awareness unequivocally translates to decreasing deaths.