Alcohol and weight gain lead to shocking rise in breast cancer

Rates of breast cancer amongst Australian women have risen by 50 per cent since the 1980s with the disease expected to overtake melanoma, lung and other cancers this year to become the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia.

Mater breast and melanoma surgeon Dr Heidi Peverill said increased alcohol consumption, a lack of exercise, being overweight and other lifestyle factors were contributing to the ‘shocking increase’.

She said it was a wake-up call to young women.

“The most shocking part is that alcohol consumption in the time between the first period and the first pregnancy has a major impact,” said Dr Peverill, who has a Masters in Oncoplastic Breast Surgery and who specialises in breast cancer prevention.

“It’s a time when a lot of women are at pubs and clubs and breast cancer prevention would be the last thing on their minds.

“We need to start looking at behaviours, things in women’s day-to-day lives they can change. This may be increasing incidental exercise, watching your weight and choosing non-alcoholic beverages.”

Brisbane mum Kymme Davey, 36, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March, two weeks before giving birth to her son Samuel at 35 weeks into her pregnancy.

Kymme said as a young adult breast cancer was not on her radar.

“It wasn’t something I actively considered,” Kymme said.

“Drinking and partying is part of being a young person and enjoying yourself. It’s the lack of awareness more than anything which needs to be raised among young women.

“I thought breast cancer mostly affected older women in their 50s and 60s.”

Mater Breast and Endocrine surgeon Dr Chris Pyke said some of the most powerful risk factors for breast cancer could not be changed, such as family history and genetic mutations.

“However, one in four breast cancers are potentially preventable,” he said.

More than 700 Queensland women diagnosed with breast cancer are treated at a Mater hospital or facility each year.

Dr Pyke said advances in diagnostic and treatment technologies continued to improve outcomes for patients, but prevention was always better than cure.

Dr Peverill said educating young women on risks and early detection would help reduce the skyrocketing rate of breast cancer in Australia.

“When consuming alcohol, oestrogen does not metabolise well in women and high levels of the hormone circulate their body, contributing to increased cancer risk,” she said.

“Women have to make the right choice for themselves, but they need to have all the information to do that.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Find out more:


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