Nobody knows if they will be dealt the hand that includes breast cancer, but could we at least reduce our risk of getting it? I think so … but how?
Some risk factors are difficult to change, like age and family history.
These non-modifiable risk factors realistically pose as motivation for those who wish to focus on the modifiable ones.
Some believe that cancer has a genetic root. There may indeed be a link to the BRCA-1 and the BRCA-2 genes, but these only account for five to 10 per cent of breast cancer cases. While we cannot change our genes, we can change the expression of them.
As I wrote about nutrigenomics earlier, many things influence the expression of genes.
Things like nutritional status, nutrient interventions, environmental exposure to chemicals, and stress, all have an impact on how our immune system protects us from the development of cancer.
Making the right lifestyle choices are a challenging yet cost effective way to positively swing that fatalistic pendulum.
Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce mortality from breast cancer whether you have a diagnosis or not.
Active women were less likely to get a diagnosis. Furthermore, women who were active after their diagnosis had better outcomes. Most pro-exercise studies regarding breast cancer denote benefit at 30 minutes of walking per day.
That sounds do-able.
Another lifestyle choice that affects your risk of cancer is alcohol intake. The Million Women Study tracked participants for seven years. This British study found that “each daily alcoholic drink raised the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer by 12 per cent.” (J. Natl. Cancer Inst., 2009). Despite the French paradox (which evaluates red wine, by the way), alcohol consumption really should be regarded as an obstacle to health on many levels.
What about hormone exposure in general? Prolonged hormone exposure, be it from a longer menarche to menopause time frame or from medical hormone therapy, does increase one’s risk.
Thankfully, the birth control pills used today have lower doses than in the past.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), though largely fallen out of favour over cardiovascular fears, also represents exogenous hormone exposure.
The Womens Health Initiative trial (2002) was put to a halt by the NIH because the women in the hormone arm had 26 per cent more breast cancer risk than the placebo group.
Since one can get by on lower doses, the move toward bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, though it may not be completely benign, does pose less risk than standard HRT.
Environmental hormone disrupters, like bisphenol A (BPA) and other chemicals derived from plastics and pesticides, affect the life cycle of breast cells. BPA-exposed rats showed faster breast cell replication and lacked a natural die-off called apoptosis even when the animals were not exposed to known carcinogens. Cells that grow rapidly and do not die naturally is “synonymous with cancer,” says Coral Lamartiniere, professor of toxicology and pharmacology at the University of Alabama School of medicine.
Canada was smart to ban BPA in baby bottles (2008). Let us get that applied to all food containers, shall we?
Dietarily speaking, another significant source of estrogen exposure comes from dairy products. The low rate of breast cancer mortality in Japan, where dairy is not a prevalent food and soy is a common food, suggests that avoiding dairy is beneficial and organic soy consumption is protective. While the debate goes on whether or not soy is a hazard, the evidence is stacking up in favour of soy being protective in breast cancer.
The “Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival study found a 30 per cent lower risk of recurrence in women who consumed at least 11 grams of soy protein a day.” (JAMA, 2009). Regina Ziegler points out that data also suggests that soy intake, even in childhood, may lower the risk of breast cancer.
Soy Latte … Here I come!
Breast cancer is a complex disease that has many contributors.
Research and common sense will continue to elucidate the fine points. In the meantime, get plenty of exercise, avoid alcohol, dairy products and drinking from plastic bottles, and have some organic soy.
It could make all the difference.
— Dr. Tara Macart owns Opti-Balance Naturopathic Medicine in Qualicum Beach with her husband, Jonathan.