New figures show that breast cancer is now the most common form of the disease in Britain. This country also has the highest death rate for the disease in the world.
But statistics also show that nine out of ten of us are willing to make lifestyle changes to reduce our risk of the disease.
The truth is, much research is still needed to understand breast cancer - and its causes - fully. But there are certain steps every woman can take to help reduce their chances of developing the illness.
Here are our top ten tips to help prevent breast cancer.
- Be 'breast aware'
Medics no longer advise women to examine their breasts every month in a regimented way as they believe that this may cause them to become over-anxious. Instead, women are now advised to become 'breast aware'. This means getting to know what your breasts look like in front of a mirror, and feel like - perhaps in the shower or lying down - at different times of the month so that if an abnormal change occurs you can spot them at once.
- Breast-feed your babies
younger the mother and the longer she breast-feeds her baby the better. The claims are based on the theory that breast cancer is related to the hormone oestrogen. Many researchers believe the more our bodies are exposed to this hormone the greater the risk of the disease. Breast-feeding temporarily reduces a woman's oestrogen levels. It is also thought that breast-feeding causes the breast to go through certain physical changes that protect them against cancer-causing chemicals.
- If you find a lump, go to see your doctor as soon as possible
- Find out if you have a family history of breast cancer
Those most likely to have inherited breast cancer are those with many relatives diagnosed with the disease at a young age, women who have had a close relative with breast cancer in both breasts and women whose family has a history of both breast and ovarian cancer. If your mother had breast cancer, however, it does not necessarily mean that you will develop the disease.
If you are concerned that the disease may run in your family visit your GP. If he or she believes there is cause for concern you may be referred for a special test which can identify if you carry the faulty gene linked to the illness.
- Watch your alcohol intake
alcohol increases oestrogen levels. But experts disagree about how much alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.
Some say that even moderate amounts are unsafe, while others claim that drinking up to 14 units a week - more than two bottles of wine - might even improve your chances of avoiding the disease. Until more research is done, doctors generally claim that drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week (14 small glasses of wine) over a long period of time can damage your overall health.
- Watch your weight
- Exercise regularly
- Eat less fat
- If you are over 50 go for regular breast screening
The Government has published figures that showed the scheme is saving many hundreds of lives. In fact, by 2004 there will be 20 per cent fewer cancer-related deaths among older women because of the screening. Currently women of the target age will receive a letter inviting them to be screened every three years.
- Learn to relax
A recent report showed that two in every three workers spend 20 hours a week thinking about work in their spare time and a third of us suffer depression on Sunday evenings because we dread going back to work. Every area of our health can suffer, from sleep and eating patterns to our mental health and sex lives.