Did you know that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women? Based on this statistic alone it is safe to say that your breasts require more than an annual check-up.

Survival rates vary worldwide due to late detection. The later the detection, the later the stage of breast cancer and therefore the lower the survival rate, despite more intensive therapy. Professor Justus Apffelstaedt, Associate Professor at the University of Stellenbosch and Head of the Breast Clinic: Tygerberg Hospital gives steps that women as young as 20 can take to minimise their risk of a late diagnosis.

1.Adjust your lifestyle

A recent study suggests the following four main lifestyle choices that could dramatically lower your risk of developing breast cancer: maintaining a healthy weight, ascertaining risk when taking hormone therapy, not smoking and drastically minimising your alcohol intake.

2. Avoid hormone treatments

Hormone treatment over long periods may increase the risk of breast cancer. Studies have found that women who take the combined contraceptive have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Consult your health practitioner for alternatives or, if you have to be on hormone treatment, try to use the lowest possible dose.

3. Breastfeed

Studies have shown that women who breastfeed in their early thirties are less at risk of breast cancer than those who avoid breastfeeding. Breastfeeding influences a woman’s menstrual cycle resulting in lower oestrogen levels and therefore a lower risk. In addition, a woman can further reduce her risk by breastfeeding for longer (until the child is two years old, for example).

4. Regular check-ups

Women from the ages of 20 to 39 should know their family history of breast cancer and schedule a yearly consultation with a professional with a special interest in breast health (including a breast examination) and should conduct breast self-examinations monthly. Women over 40 should know about the latest advance in breast cancer treatments and technologies, should have an annual mammogram and clinical breast examination, and conduct breast self-examinations monthly. If there is a family history of breast cancer, these tests can be done earlier.