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A University of Canterbury research has found excessive eating and drinking is linked to breast cancer in New Zealand women.
Breast cancer is a significant cause of illness and death among women in New Zealand, UC researcher James Hayes said today.
``It is the most commonly registered cancer in women, accounting for 28 percent of all cancers registered, and the second most common cause of cancer death in women, accounting for 15 percent of cancer deaths.
``In 2008 2713 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 618 women died from breast cancer. More women are likely to develop the disease due to an increasingly aging population, but it should be caught earlier through mammography screening.
``The earlier this disease is detected the more successful the treatment options generally are. But the actual number of women diagnosed with breast cancer will increase because of the increasing proportion of older people and increasing size of the population,’’ he said.
Hayes’ scholarship project was designed to identify changing social and lifestyle factors that could affect the future incidence of breast cancer among New Zealand women.
Social and lifestyle risk factors initially identified were diet, smoking, lack of physical activity, high alcohol intake, obesity, delayed age at first birth, long-term use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and oral contraceptive use.
An evidence-based approach was used, with priority being given to statistically significant relative risks reported from cohort studies, ahead of odds ratios reported from case-control studies.
Once the relative risks for each social and lifestyle risk factor had been obtained information on the prevalence of the risk factors and trends in the risk factors in New Zealand women was collected.
``My results showed that the most important social and lifestyle risk factors for breast cancer in New Zealand were obesity, high alcohol intake, and lack of physical exercise. Other risk factors of less influence included delayed age at first birth, oral contraception and long-term use of hormone replacement treatment.
``These findings have considerable public health relevance, since they suggest that it is possible, at least in principle, to prevent an appreciable proportion of breast cancer cases by changing a few selected lifestyle factors.
`` I don’t think anybody would be surprised to read that a lack of exercise and binge drinking accompanying a fatty diet were not brilliant health choices but this research quantifies to what extent they are dangerous. This allows women to make choices,’’ Hayes said.
Promoting regular physical exercise avoiding long-term use of hormone replacement treatment and reducing the prevalence of heavy drinking may reduce the risk of breast cancer in New Zealand women.
Hayes received assistance in his project from Professor Ann Richardson at the UC Health Sciences Centre. Over the last decade, the centre has seen an increasing number of students who have enrolled to undertake postgraduate studies in Health Sciences. The Health Sciences Centre also led the development of a new undergraduate qualification at UC; the Bachelor of Health Sciences, from next year.