Breast Cancer – be proactive!

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Breast Cancer – be proactive!

Diseases that affect the body at the cellular level are termed as ‘cancer’.  This is where abnormal cells divide, grow out of control and can lump together to form a tumor.  Breast cancer occurs when the breast tissue is the primary location of a cancer growth or tumor.  It is a complex disease with no known single cause.  There are varying types of breast cancer that can occur in different breast tissues (ex ductal carcinoma, lobular carcinoma) and are often detected when a woman feels a lump.  If cells break off from the tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system, the cancer can spread from the breast tissue to other parts of the body. 

Cancerous lumps are often firm, never go away, and are usually (though not always) pain-free.  The vast majority of breast lumps are simply cysts or fibroid masses which are not cancerous, but there is no way to tell without a professional’s examination and a biopsy is necessary to identify the lump.  A lump that is cancerous may appear to be growing or will not move when pushed.  The lump may also simply be caused by normal fibrocystic changes during the menstrual cycle.  Breast cancer can also cause a yellow, bloody, or clear discharge from the nipple. 

There are several factors that can influence this complex disease, such as alcohol use, diet, exposure to certain environmental chemicals and genetics.  It is a combination of these factors that influences breast cancer development. The female sex hormone estrogen is a big culprit in many cases as it promotes cellular growth in the breast tissues and reproductive organs.  Risk factors that result in the breasts being exposed to more estrogen for longer periods of time are: onset of menstruation before age 9, having a first child after the age of 30, having no or few children and experiencing menopause after age 55. 

Less than 1% of breast cancer cases occurs in men and are usually diagnosed later on and therefore can be more serious.  This is why it is important to detect breast cancer in the earliest stage possible, for both men and women. 

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

  • Family history in first degree relative (mother or sister)
  • Early start of menstruation
  • Late onset of menopause
  • Excess of estrogen (estrogen replacement therapy in menopause, use of birth control pills)
  • Obesity (fat cells create estrogen)
  • High fat diet (especially high in arachidonic acid and saturated fat)
  • Moderate to high alcohol consumption increases risk 50 – 100%
  • Excess iron
  • Never having a child increases risk up to 30%
  • Child-bearing after age 30
  • Excess exposure to xenobitoics with estrogenic properties such as pesticides and herbicides (ex DDT)
  • Plasticizer bis-phenol A (BPA) accumulates in breast fat and is a potent xeno-estrogen found in soft plastics such as Saran wrap, food containers and water bottles. 
  • A high glycemic diet (high in sugar and refined carbohydrates) is associated with higher risk of breast cancer and more rapid progression of the disease
    Silicone breast implants

Prevention

  • Regular physical exercise (at least 30min of aerobic exercise three times/week).
  • High dietary fiber intake(ex ground flaxseed)
  • High intake of vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopenes, legumes, cruciferous vegetables, green tea.
  • Dietary phytoestrogens such as soy foods modulate estrogen receptors (miso, tofu, soy milk). 
  • Herbs that are high phytoestrogens are black cohosh, chasteberry, red clover and tumeric.  Phytoestrogens are forms of estrogen that are much weaker than the body’s estrogens, but are capable of blocking the stronger, more damaging estrogens (they can fit into the same receptors in breast cells that estrogens can, thus preventing the estrogen’s ability to dock there). Phytoestrogens also expand the length of the menstrual cycle, possibly lowering the lifetime exposure to estrogen. 
  • A diet that is high in healthy fats such as monosaturates (olive oil) and omega 3s (wild salmon, tuna, halibut, mackerel, sardines and herring) and low in saturated fats.  Omega 3 fats are also found in nuts and seeds.
  • Low risk is associated with high HDL “good” cholesterol.
  • Low glycemic diet reduces risk by controlling insulin and insulin-like growth factors.
  • ¼ grapefruit daily inhibits the estrogen-clearing enzyme in the liver enough to increase risk of breast cancer by as much as 30%.
    Vegan and plant based diet are lower risks (beans and lentils are protective).
  • Ensure all animal foods are free of herbicides, pesticides, hormones and drugs. Grain fed animals contain meat that is pro-inflammatory so ensure meat comes from animals who were grass/pasture fed.
  • Sunshine and vitamin D (take at least 2000IU of vitamin D3 daily).
  • Breastfeeding benefits the breasts as the tissue completes its differentiation and carcinogens are eliminated in the breast milk.  The months during pregnancy without periods also are risk reducers.
  • Maintain good bowel bacteria by taking broad spectrum enteric coated probiotics.
  • Maintain your thyroid gland.  A subtle and pre-clinical hypothyroid state is a risk factor for breast cysts, fibrosis, and cancer (Iodine, exercise and immune balance are the foundation for thyroid health).
    Stress management to moderate cortisol and blood sugar fluctuations.
  • Avoid using anti-perspirants and drinking alcohol
    Quercetin, resveratrol, indole-3-carbinol, green tea EGCG increase a breast cancer resistance protein.  Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (apples, onion, grapes, cabbage, broccoli) and drink green tea.
    Supplementing with melatonin is beneficial as it blocks estrogen receptor sites on breast cancer cells.
  • Examine your breasts each month after the age of 20, preferably the first week after your menstrual period ends. 

Michelle Kramer BSc. Nutrition & Food Science

References

  1. Balch. P.A. (2010). Prescription for Natural Healing. 5th Edition. A Practical A-Z Reference to drug free remedies using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs and Food Supplements. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
  2. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2015). About Breast Cancer.  Retrieved Sept 6, 2015 from http://www.cbcf.org /prairies/ABOUTBREASTCANCERMAIN/Pages/default.aspx.
  3. McKinney, N. BSc, ND. (2012). Naturopathic Oncology.  An Encyclopedic Guide for Patients & Physicians. 2nd edition. Vancouver, BC: Liason Press. 

 

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