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Women with breast cancer putting their health at further risk

Women with breast cancer putting their health at further risk

Many Australian women are continuing to smoke and drink after being diagnosed with breast cancer, increasing their risk of further cancers, new Australian research has revealed.

The Bupa Health Foundation Health and Wellbeing After Breast Cancer Study has found that two out of every three women who were cigarette smokers when their breast cancer was diagnosed continued to smoke two years later. Of heavier smokers, only one in ten was likely to quit.

The study also found that being diagnosed with breast cancer had very little impact on the pattern of alcohol consumption of moderate to heavy drinkers, even though consuming excess alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer recurrence and death from breast cancer.

The new findings of this study showed that one in 12 women continued drinking more than four drinks per occasion at least once a week, two years after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

These findings come from the latest phase of research from the Bupa Health Foundation Health and Wellbeing After Breast Cancer Study which had previously revealed that many women with breast cancer had wrongly attributed the cause of their cancer to stress.

Head of Clinical Advisory for Bupa Australia, Dr Stan Goldstein, said: “Many women are under the misconception that stress is the main cause of their cancer. It’s very worrying that they don’t realise continued smoking and excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk for further cancers.”

“It is surprising and concerning that many women seem to ignore the fact that quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption could significantly improve the long term outlook for their condition; particularly considering all the treatment they go through and the worry it causes.

“This research shows that women with breast cancer need an increased level of support from healthcare professionals to assist them to take simple lifestyle measures to maximise their chances of enjoying good health and minimise the risk of suffering cancer again in the future.”

Lead investigator of the Bupa Health Foundation Health and Wellbeing After Breast Cancer Study, Associate Professor Robin Bell, believes the findings of the study create the need to call for more support for women with breast cancer to adopt healthier lifestyles where the changes are evidence based.

“We know that around the time of diagnosis of serious disease people make changes to their lifestyle. In this study about one-third of women made some change to their diet and one-third to their physical activity.

“However, not all the changes being made are based on solid evidence; for example, some women eliminate dairy products, which is not evidence based; in contrast, there is no argument that stopping smoking and choosing to moderate alcohol intake are good things to do, However, the women who would benefit most from making these lifestyle changes seem to choose not to, or aren’t getting help to do so,” Prof Bell said.

“The outlook for women diagnosed with breast cancer continues to improve. Overall, five-year survival for women diagnosed is nearly 90 per cent, and even higher for women diagnosed in the early stages of the disease.

“So women with breast cancer should be looking to optimise their health for the years beyond their diagnosis. This includes making healthy life choices that will prevent the development of a new breast cancer or a recurrence of past disease,” Prof Bell said.

For further information on:

Alcohol and Smoking

What are the risks of alcohol?

Deciding to quit

Breast cancer

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For media enquiries or further information please contact:
Glenn Taylor or Fionnuala Maye
Porter Novelli
Phone: 02 8987 2100

The Bupa Health Foundation and Well-being After Breast Cancer Study

The Bupa Health Foundation Health and Wellbeing After Breast Cancer Study is a longitudinal study of over 1,600 Victorian women followed since their diagnosis with breast cancer between 2004-2006, conducted by the Women’s Health Research Program in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne.

This research project was supported by the Victorian Government through a Victorian Cancer Agency Research Fellowship. Associate Professor Robin Bell is the recipient of the Victorian Cancer Agency Research Fellowship through the Victorian Cancer Agency.

The Victorian Cancer Agency has responsibility for building cancer research capacity and capability across Victoria. One of its main functions is to align and support clinical, academic and research organisations involved in cancer research.

About the Bupa Health Foundation

The Bupa Health Foundation helps build a healthier Australian community through its support of important health research, health education and other healthy living programs. Established as a charitable foundation in 2005, the Bupa Health Foundation has partnered in over 60 initiatives nationally, with a combined investment of around $17 million, across its key focus areas: promoting wellness, managing chronic disease, healthy ageing, empowering people about their health; and keeping healthcare affordable.