‘A stitch in time saves nine‘ is a proverb about prevention meaning ‘If you sort out a problem immediately it may save extra work later’.
It’s all good in theory but not always easy in practice. We have many demands on our time so adding a bit more on health can feel somewhat overwhelming, especially if you don’t really understand the information being presented. A Stitch In Time is going to help you with this. We are going to drill down on the information given about breast cancer prevention and figure out what it means for you.
The Oxford dictionary states Prevention (noun)- is the action of stopping something from happening or arising.
Clearly no one wants breast cancer to arise in their body. So what can you do to prevent it? How do you know if your at increased risk? It’s well documented that one in eight Australian women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime but does this take into account women who are at genetically high risk, whether your more likely to get it in your 30’s, 50’s or 70’s.
During my research I came across this information in a paper published by Australian Journal of Primary Health Research.
The oft-quoted 12% average lifetime risk may mislead individual women. Breast Cancer risk is not normally distributed; rather, most women have a low (less than 4%) lifetime risk and the remainder range from 4% to more than 80% (Hopper 2011; Evans et al. 2012)
Hummmm…. This is what I mean by understanding the information, am I in the 12% average lifetime risk aka: One in eight or am in less than 4% because I have no gene faults that I’m aware of or family history.
I went online to the Cancer Australia site and used the calculator which determines your risk for developing breast cancer; this is for women who have NOT had breast or ovarian cancer.
When I used this tool I was surprised to find I sit in the bottom of the moderate risk category. When I took the test it was out of curiosity but I didn’t expect to be anything other than low risk, after all I have no family history of breast or ovarian cancer or known gene fault.
But there it was, due to my age and the ‘ah hum’ large glass of wine I enjoy on more nights than not I’m at moderate risk. Did you know that the age you get your period, have children, diet, weight, exercise, use of the contraceptive pill, age you have children, whether or not you breast feed and alcohol consumption all play into your risk factors to develop breast cancer?
So this is where my prevention options come into play. I am by no means looking at any kind of medical prevention options like surgery or medication however I do need to rethink my lifestyle choices, probably eat a little better, drop a couple of kilos and cut back on the vino to get back to low risk but there is nothing I can do about my age. I can understand why many of these factors increase my risk but it’s because I’ve been doing so much research on this over the past few years.
How is a women with no medical background supposed to understand why alcohol or age would play a part in their risk. You can say ‘cut back on drinking’ or ‘stop ageing’ ha ha.. but why would you if you don’t really get why. However if you had the effects of alcohol on your liver and why your liver is so important to your overall health fully explained to you, followed by details on how this effects your cancer risk you might be more inclined to curb your consumption?
So now to women who are at increased risk to develop breast cancer due to family history or genetic mutation, no not talking X-Men but rather gene faults most commonly in the Breast Cancer 1 (BRCA1) or Breast Cancer 2 (BRCA2) gene which increases a womens risk to develop breast cancer. Up to 5% of breast cancers are due to family history or gene fault.
I found this explanation-
For most diseases, the strongest known indicators of a person’s familial risk profile are: (i) their genotype for known susceptibility genes, (ii) having the disease itself, the more so the earlier the age at onset, and (iii) having a family history of the disease, the more so the greater the number of, the closer the relationship to, and the earlier the age at onset of, affected relatives.”Oh my god I started going cross-eyed around here- how are you doing?” It is also emerging that, at least for some common cancers such as those of the colorectum and breast, specific tumour characteristics are good indicators of their particular genetic causes, especially if the tumour developed at a young age for the particular cancer.
Ok so that was lifted directly from Hopper Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations 2011, 8:2 and not meant for us lay folks. But I think it demonstrates how hard it can be to make sense of medical information and how it relates to you.
I had a really good chat the other day with a young mother who has just entered remission for her breast cancer, she doesn’t know why she got breast cancer so young, she had no family history and has not been tested for a genetic fault.
When I asked her if she would like to have genetic testing, her answer surprised me. She commented on the wait time to get the test- up to 9 months in the public system, the cost to go private- something like $2500 depending on the lab but reduced wait time, that it could have serious implications for her and family members for insurance premiums and that she wasn’t sure the information would be of much use since she’s already had the cancer.
How can this be so hard to navigate and is it important to know if she carries a gene fault?
This is the next stop in the A Stitch In Time journey. We are going to be interviewing a highly regarded expert in breast cancer genetics and prevention research and practice to try to get to the bottom of some of these questions and many more so that you can have the information in an easy to understand format.
Do you have specific questions on genetic’s in relation to breast cancer risk? Please let me know so I can ask for you?
I would like to point out that the information in this blog is from the research I’ve been conducting on breast cancer prevention. I am on this journey to learn, discover the answers and present them back to you. I will asking specialist for specific current and accurate information to share with you which will, I hope, clarify many of the questions I’ve raised in this blog.
You can find more blogs from the A Stitch In Time film project on Breast Cancer Prevention here