October was breast cancer awareness month and there was plenty of information around about how to examine your breasts for lumps and bumps; how to ensure regular mammograms and then to follow on with that, what standard treatment is available should breast cancer be diagnosed. What is concerning is how much less was discussed about how to better inform women about prevention. In 2017 there were around 45,000 new diagnoses of breast cancer alone in England alone. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and is the principal cause of death among women globally, so shouldn’t we be trying to prevent this disease rather than testing and retesting until we find it?
A Cochrane systematic review in 2013 reported that if 2,000 women had regular mammography screening for 10 years, one woman will benefit and will avoid dying from breast cancer; 200 women will receive false positives and 10 women will be unnecessarily treated with surgery, radio- and/or chemotherapy. Mammography is not to be misinterpreted as breast cancer prevention. However, finding toxicity, inflammation or some pathology years before it is found on a mammogram gives you time to make lifestyle changes before the disease has an opportunity to take hold and more aggressive treatment is needed. If you think of symptoms as the body’s inability to adapt to its challenges, then listen to your body and don’t ignore your symptoms.
So how can you reduce your risk of breast cancer? This usually requires a multifaceted approach with an understanding that your body is interconnected and one system malfunction can have an impact on many other body systems.
Think about how your gut is functioning – A healthy gut microbiome ensures the correct ratio of healthy bacteria in your gut which in turn improves your immune system and helps break down food and detoxifies the oestrogen made in your body after it’s been used. Don’t just medicate gut symptoms away, look for the root cause. Are you eating enough fibre and nutrient-dense vegetables? Aim to eat a variety of brightly coloured vegetables every day.
If you have on-going severe PMS, could you have an oestrogen/progesterone imbalance in your body? High levels of oestrogen correlate with breast cancer in scientific studies.
Do you know what your vitamin D levels are? Numerous studies have shown an association between Vitamin D status and risk of breast cancer. Testing for Vitamin D status and optimising levels should be considered as part of a strategy for breast cancer prevention. It is difficult to eat sufficient amounts of vitamin D rich foods in the UK to sustain these levels, hence supplementing through the winter months is often recommended.
Ensure you are eating iodine rich foods. Iodine is an essential trace element required for the synthesis of hormones. Your breasts absorb and use a lot of iodine, which they need for proper cellular function. Unfortunately, few food sources are rich in iodine, so make a list of iodine rich foods such as sea vegetables (kelp or kombu), cod, eggs and prunes, and make sure you are eating from the list regularly.
Sugar is not your friend when you are looking to prevent breast cancer. Sugar is not only found in foods such as cakes and chocolate but also in many low fat and processed foods. Every time you eat sugar, you raise your insulin level, which promotes inflammation in the body. High insulin levels may also increase oestrogen levels.
Clean up your environment, starting with looking at the chemicals you use on your body and in your home. Environmental toxins which include the creams, lotions and potions that are used in many women’s daily beauty routine along with the toxic chemicals we use in our homes often contain harmful substances called xenoestrogens. They mimic oestrogen in the body and can be more powerful than oestrogen.
We know that exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer risk. There are many health benefits from regular exercise, but specifically in breast cancer prevention as it improves insulin sensitivity, which helps to balance oestrogen and also to maintain a healthy body weight. Exercise does not have to mean hours in the gym, but could be 30 minutes of moderate exercise a few times per week.
Taking control of your diet and lifestyle and making some changes to support your overall health and wellbeing can all help towards reducing your risk of developing cancer.