Successful Breast Cancer Prevention Strategies
Sep 26, 2012 10:42AM
● By Dr. Nick LeRoy
It is often surprising to doctors that so many women know so little about what causes breast cancer. Although one popular belief is that it is a genetic disease, 80 percent of women that get breast cancer do not have a relative with it and research has shown that less than 10 percent of breast cancer is of genetic origin. There are many factors to consider, and no single cause can be pinpointed, so we should embrace all of the known, reasonable practices that will help to prevent breast cancer.
Lose weight: Studies have clearly associated high body fat with increased breast cancer, a higher frequency of breast cancer reoccurrence and increased likelihood that cancer will spread. This may be due to the fact that fat increases estrogen levels and/or the connection between belly fat and increased insulin, which makes tumors grow.
It is challenging to decrease body fat. It is best to adopt a balanced, low-glycemic diet that focuses on fruits and vegetables. Journaling is very helpful as well, because it forces us to examine what we are really eating. Additionally, a consultation with a practitioner experienced in sensible weight loss is a great idea.
Improve diet: A low-fat and high-fiber diet protects against breast cancer, so eat more fruits and vegetables as part of a plant-based diet. This doesn’t mean we have to become vegetarians, but it does mean eating bitter, leafy greens such as kale, arugula, collard greens and spinach on a daily basis. We should also limit intake of animal products, choosing lean, healthy meats and fish when possible. Brassica family vegetables, like broccoli and cabbage, contain Indole-3-carbinol, a plant chemical shown to stop the growth of breast cancer. Other dietary factors that are important include limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks or less per week and decreasing overall calorie intake. An obvious benefit of decreasing caloric intake is weight loss—further decreasing cancer risk.
Avoid chest/breast radiation: We’ve known that X-ray radiation causes cancer for more than 100 years, yet our “gold standard” in breast cancer screening is the mammogram, a test that squashes the breast as flat as humanly possible to then irradiate it. Despite research demonstrating its potential harm and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations not to start mammograms until the age of 50, doctors are still insisting that women get them at the age of 40. Breast thermography is a great alternative to screen for breast cancer. This test, which identifies abnormal blood flow associated with cancer, is especially good for younger women under the age of 40, in which mammograms cause more cancer than they find.
Avoid hormones and chemicals: With the release of the findings of the Women’s Health Initiative, it has been proven that hormone replacement therapy contributes to breast cancer. What has emerged in its place is “bio-identical” or “bio-equivalent” hormone therapy; both touted as safer than synthetic hormones. To date, however, the safety of bio-identical hormones has not been adequately studied. The fact is that they are still hormones, which stimulate breast tissue. We should not confuse a deficiency therapy with a lifestyle drug—menopause is not a deficiency disease, but rather the natural process of aging and women considering hormone replacement should weigh the risks versus benefits.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there are more than 200 manmade chemicals to be found in the average human body. Some of these chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA) are particularly nasty, acting as endocrine disruptors, even with extremely small exposure. Found in plastics and in the lining of canned goods, BPA has been shown to stimulate the growth of estrogen-dependent breast cancers. A recent study found that parabens, estrogenic compounds contained in many skin care products, are deposited in breast tissue. Although there is no clear correlation between parabens and breast cancer, avoid plastics and canned goods that do not have BPA-free linings, including soda cans.
There are many meaningful ways to decrease breast cancer risk. Myriad minor factors may or may not increase or prevent breast cancer, but many lack research and distract us from the most important preventive factors. Focus on the proven big-risk factors and take action now to prevent breast cancer.
Dr. Nick LeRoy, DC, MS, is the director of the Illinois Center for Progressive Health. He specializes in alternative therapies for gynecologic conditions, including cervical dysplasia, endometriosis, uterine fibroids and breast health.