Why breast cancer comes onto the health radar at 40 (and what this means for emergency workers)

Cancer Australia predicts over 19,500 breast cancer diagnoses this year. This figure has risen from the 17,000 cases in 2017. For women, it’s the most common cancer. But there’s good news: Australia has one of the best survival rates in the world.

Unfortunately, though, the younger the woman, the bigger the fight. According to Breast Cancer Network Australia, pre-menopausal women have poorer survival outcomes than their elderly.

Mayo Clinic suggests that once women reach 40, mammograms should be a regular part of the yearly check-ups. This, of course, is a general, blanket ‘rule’ that covers most Australian women. There are certain groups, however, who are at greater risk.

To uncover this, we must first explore the situations, habits, and lifestyle choices that influence the personal relevance of this disease.

Emergency staff… your work exposes you to risk factors

Among the risk factors for breast cancer, obesity, drinking alcohol, never carrying children or having them later in life, are most prevalent for emergency service workers.

Given the nature of shift work, we know first responders struggle maintaining a healthy diet and weight. Add to this the emotional demands, and food becomes a comfort – with alcohol, a coping tool.

Female responders might choose to focus on their career in their early to mid 30’s. There are more men in the force than women (32%), so they could feel the need to have children later (or never) to move up the ranks.

The other, more well-known, factors associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include:

  • A personal history of breast conditions
  • A mother or sister has had breast cancer
  • Inherited genes that increase cancer risk, passed from parents to children (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • Radiation exposure as a child or young adult
  • Beginning your period before age 12
  • Starting menopause at an older age (and using hormone therapy medications)

Alongside regular screening, the best way to prevent breast cancer is to adopt healthy habits. Maintain a healthy weight by exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding smoking. Consume a diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and fibre, and foods with anti-inflammatory properties. Soybean and dairy products also naturally fight breast cancer. Overall, aim for a plant-based diet to prevent the development (and progression) of cancer.

There is help available to make the right choices, as you navigate shift work, physical exhaustion, emotional trauma, and being a minority in the workplace.

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Please note: some articles on this website are compiled from material obtained externally. Although we make every effort to ensure information is correct at the time of publication, we accept no responsibility for its accuracy. Health-related articles are intended for general information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor. The views expressed in articles are not necessarily those of Emergency Services Health.