- A breast cancer surgeon shared two things she never does so she can lower her risk of the disease.
- Rachel O’Connell never misses a monthly breast self-check and doesn’t drink alcohol during the week.
- She said that genetics and being female, which can’t be changed, put people at highest risk.
A breast cancer surgeon has shared the two things that she avoids to lower her risk of the disease.
Rachel O’Connell, a consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon at The Royal Marsden Hospital, UK, told Insider that often factors we can’t change, like age and being female, put people at highest risk of the disease.
However, lifestyle choices can produce “incremental benefits” in lowering the risk of breast cancer and also improve general health, she said.
An estimated 264,000 women and 2,400 men are diagnosed with annually in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here is what O’Connell would never do so she can lower her breast cancer risk:
1. Miss a breast check
O’Connell said that identifying breast cancer early can mean that “you’ll need less treatment.”
For this reason, O’Connell, 44, who is too young for screening in the UK, which is for people aged between 50 and 71, checks her breasts once a month.
In the US, the CDC recommends women aged between 50 to 74 with an “average” risk of breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. This raises the chances of finding it at an early stage” when it can be treated and may be cured,” according to the National Cancer Institute.
She said that she doesn’t have a specific method for examining her breasts, but she said it is important to become familiar with them and to have a routine.
Signs of breast cancer that O’Connell looks out for include: skin dimpling, nipple discharge, and lumps.
2. Drink alcohol Sunday to Thursday
O’Connell avoids having alcohol from Sunday to Thursday because it helps her to drink less overall.
“It can be hard to moderate alcohol intake and that’s why the one thing I’d say with alcohol is to have a strict idea of what you do and don’t do because you can end up having a glass of wine in the evening, which becomes two glasses of wine in the evening, and then two glasses or three glasses of wine every evening, which probably isn’t a good idea,” O’Connell said.
According to the CDC, research suggests that the more alcohol a woman drinks, the higher the risk of breast cancer.
“I don’t think you should not drink alcohol, and things should be in moderation,” she said.
O’Connell tries to do ‘everything in moderation’
O’Connell said she takes an “everything in moderation” approach to life, including to physical activity and her diet, to protect her general health rather than lowering breast cancer risk specifically. For example, she tries to eat a diet that’s not “too high” in saturated fat by eating red meat once a week.
“The most exercise I try to do is go swimming with my 4-year old son and when I do walk places, I try to walk at pace to get my heart rate going,” O’Connell, who often works long hours in the operating theatre, said.
According to the CDC, being overweight and inactive increases the risk of breast cancer — and 12 other types of cancer — in women who are post-menopausal. However, not everyone with breast cancer has risk factors, and not everyone that is at risk develops the disease.
“I always reassure patients that the vast majority of the time, they’ve not done anything wrong to cause breast cancer,” O’Connell said.
Read More:A breast cancer specialist shares 2 things that she never does so she can lower her breast