Find Out What You Can Do for Breast Cancer Prevention.
Breast cancer hit our family like a ton of bricks. Within a six-month span of time, my mom’s older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and so was my mom. While my mom did fine after having a double mastectomy, my aunt died from complications after surgery. My nurse practitioner assured me that I was probably not at an increased risk since both my mom and my aunt were older than 60 when they were diagnosed. That doesn’t stop her though from reminding me every year that with my family history, I can’t miss a mammogram and that I have to keep breast cancer prevention in the back of my mind.
I appreciate the reminders because with the time that has lapsed between then and now, it’s gotten easier to think of those annual squeezes as more of an inconvenience than the disease-detecting miracle tools that they really are. They also serve as a yearly check-in with myself about whether I’m living in a way that will keep me as healthy as possible. While we can’t do anything about the most significant risk factors for breast cancer – which are being a woman, getting older and genetics – the good news is that there are steps that we can take as part of our regular lifestyle that will go a long way toward breast cancer prevention.
Breast Cancer Statistics
Here are some statistics that aren’t meant to frighten you but are meant to make you more aware when it comes to breast cancer prevention. According to breastcancer.org:
- About one in eight U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
- In 2019, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 62,930 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.”
So, what can we do about this? Unfortunately, there’s not a clear cut answer. Some people who don’t have any risk factors at all develop breast cancer while others with multiple risk factors never do. That’s because breast cancer seems to be caused by what the Mayo Clinic calls “a complex interaction of your genetic makeup and your environment.”
Diet and Lifestyle Risk Factors
While food, diet or lifestyle changes can’t assure that we’ll never get breast cancer, there are things that we can do to lower our risk and that will work toward breast cancer prevention. Liliana Partida, CN is a clinical nutritionist with the Cancer Center for Healing and the Center for New Medicine in Irvine, California. She told me that while “We don’t want to live a life of fear,” we should think in terms of “What can we do to be mindful of the things that we eat and the things that we do in order to bring this burden load down?”
More research is needed in all of these areas to rank where they fall on the risk factor scale, but here are some of the most common factors that Liliana says can increase our risk of developing breast cancer:
- The environment of cancer thrives off of glucose (also known as blood sugar). While glucose is our main source of fuel, if our diet consists of a lot of carbohydrates and processed foods, the excess sugar could become a breeding ground for cancer.
- Chronic stress. It increases cortisol in the system which is behind the fight or flight response. The first thing the body is going to do is to start dumping glycogen from the muscles. Then it has to have a vehicle to transport those calories to the body, so it has to produce insulin. Cortisol can neutralize insulin, so if it’s a chronic situation, you can end up becoming insulin resistant. This allows for your sugar to enter the blood stream and have plenty of fuel for cancer.
- Smoking. Liliana says that smoking adds to the body’s toxin burden overload, which can lead to breast cancer. The Mayo Clinic says this is particularly the case for premenopausal women.
- Obesity. Too much body fat, especially around the abdominal area can act as an endocrine organ and can begin to produce more estrogen. Breastcancer.org says that excess estrogen can cause extra breast cell growth which increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Eating too much red and processed meat. Liliana’s observation matches the findings of this study published in the September 5, 2018 issue of International Journal of Cancer. The study found that unprocessed red meat consumption was associated with a six percent higher breast cancer risk and processed meat consumption was associated with a nine percent higher breast cancer risk. While that is an important finding, we need to keep it in perspective. Breastcancer.org points out that since the average woman in the United States has about a 12 percent risk of breast cancer, eating a lot of processed meat would cause this risk to go up by one percent (12 percent x 9 percent), for a risk of about 13 percent. In comparison, smoking three cigarettes per day increases your risk of cancer by 500 percent.
- Exposure to chemicals in plastic. BPA, BPS and other chemicals in plastic are hormone disruptors. According to breastcancer.org, they “can affect how estrogen and other hormones act in the body, by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off the body’s hormonal balance.” This can lead to breast cancer.
- Regular to high alcohol consumption. Alcohol can also change the way estrogen works in the body. Susan G. Komen says, “This can cause blood estrogen levels to rise,” which “may in turn, increase the risk of breast cancer.”
Diet and Lifestyle Steps That You Can Take for Breast Cancer Prevention
Liliana believes strongly that a patient’s realization that they actually do have a lot of power over prevention is one of the best forms of medicine there is. While there are many steps that you can take for breast cancer prevention, these are the ones she ranks at the top of the list.
- Reduce stress. Liliana highly recommends meditation for this.
- Eat a primarily plant-based diet. Liliana suggests that if you’re going to eat animals for protein, only eat a palm-sized portion three times a week or at most, once a day. She also reminds us that “Any food from the plant kingdom turns into sugar,” so we have to be careful not to eat too many starchy vegetables. Foods that are going to be more watery and bitter like broccoli, asparagus, leafy greens and those types of vegetables are better for “mopping up an excess of estrogens.” She says those can all be large quantity foods because they’re so low in sugar.
- Sleep. This is important both mentally and physically. Mentally, it helps us to reset our minds and gives us a chance to process what’s happened during the day. It also helps us not to be as stressed or overreative to life. Physically, during REM sleep between 10:00 p.m. and 1:30-2:00 a.m. is when the body utilizes the most fat because it is repairing itself and preparing for detoxification.
- Exercise. According to Liliana, if we don’t stimulate the large muscle groups like the legs and the buttocks, we’re not going to have the pumping action that is “so important to cleanse the body of its impurities and to support the lymphatic system.” It also helps with weight control.
- Build emotional resilience in life. Being able to move through the normal emotions that we experience throughout the day without getting stuck in stress, anxiety or depression is critical to our overall wellbeing and our hormonal health.
- Maintain good relationships with family and friends. Research shows that the endorphins that are produced when we’re feeling happy, supported or fulfilled are very enhancing to the immune system.
- Drink alcohol in moderation (if at all). Liliana believes that a glass of wine every now and then isn’t a problem but drinking on a daily basis is not a good idea. She says that spirits such as vodka, gin and tequila are even better (but still in moderation) since they don’t have any sugar in them.
- Limit exposure to plastic. Use glass containers to store food whenever possible.
All of this goes to show that breast cancer prevention doesn’t need to be an all-consuming worry. If we’re following the lifestyle steps outlined here and living the healthiest life we can, that will be plenty. Then, each year as we go for our mammogram and are taking stock of where we are health-wise, we can rest assured that we’re doing everything possible to try to make sure that we’re not another breast cancer statistic.