October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Since many of my articles have been focused on wellness and prevention, the hardworking editorial staff at Julien’s Journal asked me to write something focusing on breast cancer. I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about breast cancer prevention.
We hear a lot about the importance of breast cancer detection, but we don’t hear a lot about prevention.
Let’s get the facts out of the way first. According to BreastCancer.org, “About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.” Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer for women. In 2016 according to this site, almost 250,000 women were diagnosed with invasive (metastatic) breast cancer and 60,000 with non-invasive in situ breast cancer. 41,000 women die each year of breast cancer. Only 15% of those diagnosed have a family history of breast cancer.
Though much is made of the BRCA1 and 2 genes, only 5-10% of those diagnosed with breast cancer have a mutation of these genes. For those with the mutation however, the chance of getting breast cancer is 45-65%.
All cancer is a result of cell mutation. As I have mentioned before, the body’s innate healing and homeostasis system is the brain and peripheral nervous system. It controls humeral (white blood cells) immunity and sends out natural killer cells to scour, capture, and destroy cell mutations that occur every day in each and every one of our bodies. Cancer takes hold when these mutations are not captured or recognized by the immune system and live to replicate their dysfunctional nature, creating other cancer cells. Since our body is constantly breaking down and re-creating itself, when these bad cells take hold and the immune system misses them, they can grow to take over our bodies.
Unfortunately, there is no exact recipe for avoiding cancer. However, there are guidelines for wise practices. These are the seven steps for breast cancer prevention recommended by the Mayo Clinic:
- Avoid alcohol. “The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer.” They recommend one drink a day.
- Don’t smoke.
- Control your weight.
- Be physically active. According to Mayo, people “should try to attain at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.” Another theory about why exercise is helpful in prevention of breast cancer besides increased circulatory flow, is that the breast bounces when exercising, especially when we walk or run, increasing lymph flow into and away from the breast and lymphatic tissue, which helps to increase elimination of waste products, increasing the opportunity for the scavenger cells to do their job of looking for cell mutation. More blood and lymph flow means more thorough scavenging ability.
- Breast feed. The longer you breast feed, the more protected you are.
- Limit the dose and duration of hormone therapy. A study published in 2000 linked increasing breast cancer rates to increased prescription of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by doctors from 1980-2000. After the study was published, cancer rates dropped 7% in one year and continued declining as presumably, doctors stopped writing as many prescriptions for HRT.
- Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution.
The rest of this article is going to focus on this last one. For many in the research and alternative healthcare world, it is the major reason why the incidence of cancer has risen.
What is radiation exposure? Essentially, harmful radiation is coming at us every day from the sun and atmosphere. When it comes to background radiation it is difficult to avoid. We rely on our immune system and our innate healing mechanisms to keep us healthy. What is certain, is that these days most cancer is not arising exclusively from background radiation. Human created electromagnetic fields can also be mutagenic (cancer causing). Radiation from cell phones, and everyday appliances such as computers, laptops, TV’s, hairdryers, and LED clocks emit harmful EMF fields which can be dangerous especially if we have them next to our body’s for hours at a time.
I have always thought it was ironic and disturbing that one of the ways to avoid breast cancer is to avoid radiation exposure, yet women are counseled continuously to have yearly mammograms starting from age 40 or 45, depending on the source, and biennially thereafter. According to one local radiologist the average mammogram is the equivalent to a single chest x-ray. And yet if the average life expectancy for a woman is 72 years of age that is 21 chest x-rays in her lifetime. I asked this doctor why they don’t use less invasive procedures such as Ultrasound or MRI, which are the recommended follow-up procedures when a woman has a positive mammogram. While he assured me that there are things that cannot be seen on ultrasound that can be seen on a mammogram, like small calcifications, it seems to me that there has to be a better way than exposing the sensitive breast tissue to an annual x-ray, especially when radiation is a risk factor for breast cancer.
A 1994 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a 30% rate of false negatives using mammography – meaning 30 % of women with breast cancer were missed on screening. Though mammography is the present day first line of defense, it should be clear that it can fall short in it’s ability to detect breast cancer at rates that one would expect.
Furthermore, in 2014, the British Medical Journal published the results of a 25-year follow-up for breast cancer incidence and mortality. The objective was, “to compare breast cancer incidence and mortality up to 25 years in women aged 40-59 who did or did not undergo mammography screening.” The results of the almost 90,000 women who were followed are surprising and certainly out of step with current recommendations: there was no difference in mortality between women who had annual mammography and those who had breast exams alone, without annual mammography screening. If fact, there was a slightly greater death rate among those who had mammography. The following is a link to the summary of the study: www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g366.
Thankfully, some practitioners are opening up to other, multipronged screening methods that may provide less invasive and equal or more effective approaches for breast cancer screening. I will discuss them in future issues.
Lastly, we must consider the toxin sources in our lives. Many toxins are cancer causing. But even the low level everyday exposures to chemicals cause toxins to accumulate in our bodies, weakening our immune systems and causing hormonal imbalances that predispose us to breast and other cancers. There are toxins in our personal care products, hair dyes, laundry soap, pesticides in food, water, air, and lawns. Houses and buildings are constructed using products containing toxins.
The chemicals used in our everyday products can drag our immune systems down, leaving us vulnerable to cancer. If the body is spending all it’s time trying to deal with pollution, what chance does it have to protect and heal us?
The long and short of it is: simple is better. Get as close as you can to clean and natural in your food, air, water, and living environment. Clean with soap, water, and vinegar and throw away anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce. Go back to the way things were 100 years ago in whatever ways you can, and get back to consuming things the earth provided for us. Stop eating genetically modified food or animal products raised with hormones – these are likely to throw your own hormones out of balance. Get away from eating processed foods. If you can’t pronounce it, it probably doesn’t belong in or on your body or in the air you breath. There is no real magic bullet to avoiding breast cancer, only common sense.