As in all things, prevention is better than cure. If you can keep yourself in optimum health, you give your body a better chance to keep the multiplication of cells under control. Cells have to multiply to grow and rejuvenate. We would die if that did not happen. But again there is the importance of balance. Cells multiply for healthy reasons but when they over-multiply it can lead to cancer. A healthy body has a better chance of keeping the balance.
Scientists have now found that major crises such as bereavement, job loss and divorce are associated with breast cancer. A team of researchers from Taiwan’s National Chen Kung University Medical College, questioned 199 women aged between twenty and seventy who had been recalled to London’s King’s College Hospital with a suspicious breast lump or abnormality. They found that the risk of developing breast cancer increased by three to four times if the woman had suffered severe stress in the previous five years. Fascinatingly, the researchers discovered that women who had confronted their problems and tried to work them out were three times more likely to suffer breast cancer than those who had expressed their emotions and become very upset. Perhaps the ability to let go and be upset, is a kind of emotional and physical release. Just being post-menopausal did not seem to be an important risk factor in this study.
Taking an active role in actually trying to prevent breast cancer is important in our society where we are bombarded with environmental factors from many different sources. We can help ourselves by maintaining a strong and healthy immune system so that the growth and repair of cells is kept in check. The foods we eat can strengthen our immune system. We can avoid foods that weaken it. And we can also take steps at home to reduce the level of toxins we are exposed to. Diet is absolutely crucial since up to 60 per cent of all cancers are believed to be linked to diet and nutrition.

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For women whose breast cancer is incurable, there is now much care and support available from hospices and specially trained nurses based in hospitals, cancer centers and the community.

Care that cannot cure is called palliative, and there is a great deal that can be done to make living with cancer a less frightening and stressful experience for sufferers and their families. Palliative care is not just for people who are about to die; it is long-term care that can continue for months or years. Women can live full and happy lives with incurable breast cancer, and many take advantage of the support that is available to improve their quality of life.

Hospice-based care and the support of Macmillan nurses are free to all who need them, being funded by charities or by the NHS.

Hospices

For women whose breast cancer has spread to other parts of their body to an extent which means it is not curable, hospice involvement may be suggested, by their GP, consultant or a specialist nurse such as a breast care nurse. Many are shocked at this suggestion as they imagine hospices to be places people go to die. But although some people choose to spend their last days in a hospice, their main job is to support cancer patients, and their families, and to help them remain well and to live as full and normal a life as possible for as long as possible – which in many cases means continuing support for years.

Hospices have several aims:

* to help cancer patients live full and happy lives,

* to provide pain relief and to control any other symptoms of cancer which may arise,

* to counsel and support cancer patients and their families,

* to offer financial advice and information about grants and financial assistance which may be available,

* to provide education and courses on palliative care for nurses and doctors,

* to provide regular home visits to support and care for cancer patients and their families and enable people to be looked after in their own homes rather than in hospitals.

Some hospices also have in-patient facilities where people can go if they have symptoms which need to be brought under control, or simply to give their carers at home a week or two’s respite. Many also have day-care facilities where cancer sufferers can spend the day involved in leisure activities such as painting, woodwork or making jewellery, and where they can have their hair done, be bathed if this is becoming difficult at home, talk to a doctor or social worker, or just sit and chat in a friendly and supportive environment.

Specialist nurses based within hospices or in the community work closely with GPs – who remain in overall charge of their patients’ care – as well as with community nurses and social workers. Their special skills and experience enable them to coordinate the care their patients receive and to make sure they have as much emotional support and medical treatment as they require.

Some women prefer not to be referred to a hospice, and some manage well alone. But many who do accept this help find their quality of life and ability to cope with their disease much improved.

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