Lecturer’s breast cancer research to inspire change

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11 Oct 2012

Ara Medical Imaging Lecturer James Hayes is encouraging New Zealand women to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer by changing their diet and exercise patterns.

His research paper "The impact of social and lifestyle changes on the incidence of breast cancer in New Zealand women" examines risk factors that can be modified, such as obesity and low physical activity and quantifies to what extent these factors increase the chances of breast cancer.

"We have known there are risk factors associated with developing breast cancer for some time but this research identifies the risks and quantifies them. It can be used to help women better identify the risks involved with certain lifestyle choices and to make changes that can reduce their chance of breast cancer," Hayes says.

Of the risks examined, high alcohol consumption (three or more drinks per day), obesity and reduced physical activity were the most prevalent among New Zealand women and also the most likely to increase breast cancer incidence.

Hayes found that obesity increases the risk of breast cancer by 15 per cent and this increases to 24 and 25 per cent among Maori and Pacific Women in New Zealand. Lack of physical activity increases risk by 6 per cent and consuming three or more alcoholic drinks per day can increase a woman's chance of breast cancer by four to seven per cent.

"This shows that changing dietary and exercise patterns can really make a big positive difference to women's chances of breast cancer," Hayes says.

Age at first birth, oral contraception use and hormonal replacement therapy were also examined but were found to be on the lower end of the risk factor scale.

Hayes' research will be published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

October is Breast Cancer Action Month and this year The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation (NZBCF) is challenging people to raise awareness about proactive health and wellness.