Breast cancer prevention is extremely important as breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with 1 in 9 women and 1 in 1,000 men expected to be diagnosed during their lifetime. There are a number of charities in the country working tirelessly to find a cure to the disease – but at Prevent Breast Cancer, we’re dedicated to stopping it before it starts. Our goal is that no-one should ever have to hear the words “I’m sorry, it’s breast cancer”.
How are we hoping to achieve that? We focus on promoting healthier lifestyles, early diagnosis, preventative drugs and genetic research.
There are several factors that can influence a person’s risk of developing breast cancer. The average woman in the UK gains a stone over their adult life, which increases the risk of cancer by around 20 per cent. Gaining a stone and a half increases the risk by 60 per cent whilst a three stone increase in weight doubles the risk.
Around a quarter of breast cancer cases could be prevented through making (and sticking to) simple lifestyle changes – such as eating healthily and drinking less alcohol – so our research dietitian Dr Michelle Harvie focuses on the links between diet, lifestyle and breast cancer risk. The aim of the research is to gain a better understanding of this connection, but also to find the best ways to help people make these changes.
Prevent Breast Cancer also funds gene research, aiming to find out more about how a person’s genetics can impact their risk of developing breast cancer. If you have a strong family history of the disease, it can increase the chances of you inheriting the genes that lead to the heightened risk. The BRCA gene mutations are the best-known examples of this, but our researchers have also found hundreds of gene fragments, known as SNPs, that can also increase risk.
By focusing on gene research, we’re able to more accurately predict who has a high breast cancer risk, meaning that women can take preventative action, such as having more regular screenings, making lifestyle changes or taking preventative drugs. For some people who are at a high risk of developing breast cancer, taking certain medications can mean it’s less likely that they will develop the disease in future. In fact, thanks to Prevent Breast Cancer’s researchers, in 2013 NICE guidelines were changed to recommend tamoxifen and raloxifene – drugs that were previously only used during cancer treatment – to women with an increased risk of breast cancer, to help stop it from developing. Currently, Prevent Breast Cancer’s researchers are working on a number of projects to seek out safe and effective preventative drugs.
Screening is something that we focus heavily on, as breast cancer that is caught early is more treatable – until we can completely prevent the disease, we’ll keep looking for ways to improve the breast cancer screening process. One of our major projects, PROCAS, gathers information from women about their health, hormones and lifestyle to calculate their individual risk of developing breast cancer. It also takes breast density into account, as women with denser breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women with less dense breast tissue. Once they know their risk, they are offered tailored advice in order to reduce it.
Breast cancer is a devastating disease, which is why we’re committed to breast cancer prevention and freeing the world of it altogether – we’re at the front line in the fight against it. If you’d like to support the vital work that we do, there are a number of ways you can do so, such as donating or fundraising. Together, we will prevent breast cancer for future generations.