Although most breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50 – 80 per cent, in fact – there are steps that can be taken at any age to reduce your risk of developing the disease, so here’s how you should be protecting yourself throughout your life…
In your 20s
Your 20s are the perfect time to start getting into healthy habits and protecting yourself! Although it’s still relatively rare at this age – women under 30 have a less than 1 in 1,000 chance of developing breast cancer – it’s still something to bear in mind, so that you can take steps to protect yourself in the future.
If you don’t already know about your family history of breast cancer, now is the time to have that talk. Some women have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer, so if you have a family member who was diagnosed before the age of 40, or two relatives who had it before the age of 50, it’s worth speaking to your GP. They may refer you to a family history clinic, where you can be tested to see if you carry the BRCA gene mutation or another genetic variation that is linked to breast cancer.
We know that your younger years are for having fun, but by ditching some unhealthy habits in your 20s, such as smoking and binge drinking, you are helping to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
In your 30s
Although it’s good to be breast aware at any age – it’s never too early – your 30s are when you should make sure that checking your breasts is a standard part of your routine. You only need to do it once a month, and it will only take a matter of minutes, so there’s no excuse not to! You’ll become familiar with what’s normal for you, so you’ll find it easier to spot any unusual symptoms, such as lumps, dimpling or bleeding.
When you’re juggling your every day responsibilities, it can be tough to find time for yourself, but make it your aim to fit in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. It doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous – a brisk half-hour walk five times a week will do the trick – but women who exercise regularly have been shown to have lower rates of breast cancer.
In your 40s
If you do have a family history of breast cancer, then you will start being offered mammograms from the age of 40. They may sound a bit daunting, but mammograms are a quick and painless procedure, and it’s important to attend your screening if you are offered one, as early detection makes breast cancer more treatable.
Make sure that you’re protecting yourself by keeping on top of your physical health, too – keep active, eat a healthy diet and cut down on your alcohol consumption. Many of us like to kick back with a glass of wine at the end of a long day, but studies have shown that women who drink a bottle of wine each day are at a 50 per cent higher risk of developing breast cancer. However, the risk is reduced if you stick within the government guidelines of 1-2 units per day.
In your 50s
When you reach your 50s, the chance of developing breast cancer increases so protecting yourself becomes even more important. From the age of 50, you will start getting invited for routine mammograms every three years, but if you notice any changes in your breasts between screenings, don’t hesitate to go to your GP.
The average age of menopause is 51, and although HRT can have many benefits, it also increases the risk of breast cancer, especially in oestrogen-progesterone combinations. The longer HRT is used for, the higher the risk, but once it is stopped, the risk reduces over the subsequent years. It’s worth discussing it with your doctor to weigh up your options.
As you get older, into your 60s, 70s and beyond, it’s crucial to continue to attend screenings, check yourself regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle – there’s no such thing as ‘too old’ for cancer, so you should be breast aware at any age. To find out more about the risk factors of breast cancer, take a look at our helpful guide.