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Breast Cancer Action Alert


"Only five to 10 per cent of breast cancers have a strong genetic component... Diet and lifestyle are very important factors, as are hormone balance, detoxification and emotional health.

It seems like genetic causes of breast cancer get a lot of media focus when the reality is that only five to 10 percent of breast cancers have a strong genetic component. Breast cancer, like many different cancers and diseases, is multifactoral. Diet and lifestyle are very important, as are hormone balance, detoxification and emotional health. The good news is that women can be proactive in preventing this dreaded disease.

Drink Less Alcohol

Moderate alcohol consumption increases a woman's risk of breast cancer. In one analysis of six long-term studies involving more than 320,000 women, researchers found that women who drank two to five alcoholic beverages a day had a 41 percent greater risk of developing breast cancer than non-drinkers. Even one drink a day increased breast cancer risk by nine per cent.

Lower Hormone Use

The use of hormone replacement (specifically synthetic estrogen) has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. Specifically, horse estrogen found in Premarin has been shown to cause oxidative damage to cell DNA and may be one of the reasons it is associated with breast and other cancers.

Get Physical

Exercise is important in preventing breast cancer. Several studies support this fact. Exercise reduces body fat, which ultimately leads to less estrogen production (fat cells produce estrogen). In addition, exercise improves immune function and reduces the effects of stress.

Avoid Obesity

Being overweight after menopause appears to increase breast cancer risk. This may be due to the fact that fat cells produce estrogen. Obesity or weight gain can also tie in with insulin resistance. In this condition, cells become less receptive to insulin and glucose (as insulin transports glucose into the cells). As a result, fat is stored in the body and the immune cells become suppressed. Researchers are finding an association between insulin resistance and breast and other cancers. High insulin levels cause a hormone known as IGF-1 (insulin growth-like factor) to increase, which is associated with increased breast cancer risk.

Reduce Stress

Studies have not supported a clear association between stressful life events and the development of breast cancer. However, my feeling is that it certainly plays a role at least in part for some women who develop breast cancer. The field of psychoneuroimmunology has proven a great link between stress and suppression of the immune system. Seeing as the immune system keeps cancer cells in check, it is not a large leap to assume that high amounts of prolonged stress make the immune system less able to destroy cancer cells.

Stop Smoking

Although no formal link has been found, tobacco smoke contains many known carcinogens and has been shown to cause various types of cancers.

Be Aware of Environmental Factors

Toxic pesticides such as DDT, DDE, PCB, PCP, dieldrin, and chlordane (termed xenoestrogens) have been shown to mimic estrogen in the body. Although not conclusively proven to be causes of breast cancer, they are highly suspect. I have no doubt in my mind they are a problem and recommend avoidance by eating organic foods and using supervised detoxification programs.

Follow a Health-Promoting Diet

The following dietary recommendations are important for the prevention of breast cancer.

Limit your consumption of meats and commercial dairy products. Instead, focus on a high intake of vegetables and fruits. For cancer, prevention experts recommend seven to 10 servings daily.

Lunch on Lignans

Eat other foods from plant sources such as whole grains, beans and nuts, every day. Lignans, as found in flax seeds and whole grains, have been shown to reduce the amount of circulating estrogen and testosterone, which is why they are thought to decrease breast cancer risk. These lignans are metabolized by intestinal bacteria into substances that compete with estrogen at estrogen receptor sites. They may also help reduce excessive amounts of circulating estrogen and testosterone levels by increasing sex hormone-binding globulins, which bind these hormones, as well as inhibiting an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen.

Restrict Refined Carbs

Restrict your intake of refined carbohydrates (white bread, candy, soda pop, white rice, pasta and non-whole grain crackers) as they suppress the immune system and contribute to insulin resistance.

Eat Your Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids appear to be important in the prevention of breast cancer. One study compared the breast tissue of women with breast cancer versus tissue from healthy women. Researchers found that the lower the concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in breast fat tissue the greater the risk of breast cancer.

It is important to consume sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids on a regular basis. This includes things such as cold-water fish (salmon), flax seeds and walnuts. Consume a quarter cup of ground-up organic flax seeds daily.


If you were building an arsenal to fight a powerful army, you wouldn't collect just one weapon. You would gather a variety of weapons, each with its own strengths and specialties. Fortunately, in the battle against breast cancer, there are many strategies you can take to reduce your risk.

Breast Cancer in Canada

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canadian women, accounting for one in three diagnoses.
  • In 2001, an estimated 19,500 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and about 5,500 died of it.
  • On average, 375 women were diagnosed with breast cancer every week.

PDF Table of Eight Cancer-Fighting Superfoods



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD