Breast Screening Options

Advantages & disadvantages

Breast Screening Options

In 2008 an estimated 22,400 Canadian women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Even with increased public awareness, the rate is still increasing. The numbers underline the importance of early detection and breast screening.

There are several options for detecting breast cancer, but the important message is to choose the approach that makes the most sense for you.

Thermography

Breast thermography is a procedure that uses no X-rays. Instead it reads the heat emitted from body surfaces. Usually cancer cells are hotter due to the increased blood supply they require. This is called angiogenesis–creating new blood vessels to nourish the abnormal cells and help them grow. The thermography scan will show the contrast between the normal breast tissue and the problem area. Overall it provides a picture of breast tissue cell activity. A thermography breast scan provides the earliest evidence of breast disease. Studies have shown that an abnormal thermography scan is an important marker of high risk for developing breast cancer.

Mammograms

Mammograms use a very low dose X-ray with the potential to detect masses under 5 mm in diameter. Mammography can detect about 69 percent of cancers, with a 10 to 30 percent false negative rate. Canadian women are offered a free mammogram every two years after the age of 50. Younger women may discuss the necessity of mammograms with their health care provider. It should be noted that some studies have linked low-dose radiation and the formation of cancer. While mammography X-rays, which deliver low-radiation doses, are considered safe, you should discuss your options and any concerns you have with a qualified health care practitioner.

Self-examination

The breast self-exam is a proactive means for women to care for and learn about their breasts. It is performed monthly between day five to seven of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The important thing is for a woman to get to know her own breasts and to notice any changes from month to month. The smallest mass that can be detected with the self breast exam is 8 mm.

Conduct a breast self-exam with light, medium, and then firm pressure. With flat fingers and with one arm above your head, palpate all areas of the breast in a clockwise manner. Next, while standing, raise your arms above your head and look in the mirror for any changes. With your hands on your hips, flex your chest muscles and look for any signs of puckering or swelling. Any changes in the breast should be discussed with your health care provider. 

 Lifestyle changes

The good news is that there are many things we can do to reduce our risk of breast cancer. Lifestyle changes are at the top of the list.

Foremost, maintain a healthy weight. Fat cells create extra circulating estrogens that may stimulate breast cell growth. Regular exercise and healthy food choices (such as more fruits and vegetables in the diet) decrease the amount of estrogen in the body and boost the immune system.

Minimize estrogen exposure from environmental and dietary sources. Some plastic containers can leach xenoestrogens into your food, which your liver then has to detoxify. By making the simple change to reheating food on dishes or in glass containers, we eliminate this unnecessary exposure.

The addition of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics to animal products may increase the risk of breast cancer in those consuming the products. Consider avoiding too much red meat, poultry, and dairy products.

Stress reduction has also been shown to lessen breast cancer risk. Methods such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and visualization have been shown to help boost the immune system. When the immune system is strong, there is a better chance of fighting disease.

Supplements

Many supplements may be beneficial for breast cancer prevention. Antioxidants are essential to ward off increased breast cancer cell growth.

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)
This antioxidant is found in sencha-style Japanese green tea. Each cup of this tea contains 150 mg of EGCG. At this level, most people would have to drink 10 cups of this tea to see any benefit. If that seems too much, try it in supplement form.

Studies have shown a correlation between green tea consumption and reduced breast cancer rates in non-smoking women. Other studies report promise in the prevention of stage I and II breast cancers with the use of EGCG.

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C)
This phytonutrient is found in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy). In the body, estrogens are found in 16 hydroxy form (bad) and 2 hydroxy form (good). I3C acts to increase the ratio of the 2 hydroxy form which may protect against certain cancers including breast cancer.

Quercetin
This bioflavonoid acts to reduce the production of bad estrogen from fat cells. It can bind to estrogen receptors in the breast and inhibit cell growth. Quercetin has also been shown to enhance the immune system. Antioxidants are key nutrients in cancer prevention. If you worry about breast cancer, consider increasing your antioxidant intake and increasing your daily activity level. Always discuss your health concerns with a certified health practitioner.

Complementary supplements

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer and choose a treatment plan that involves radiation or chemotherapy, there are many nutritional supplements that may help to tame treatment side effects. Before taking any supplements, it is essential that you discuss your plans with your medical team. Some supplements can interact with prescribed medications.

Supplement Effect
Vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C, quercetin May improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy
Coenzyme Q10, vitamin B6, vitamin E, curcumin May reduce the toxicity of chemotherapy
Vitamin E, vitamin C, omega-3s, ashwaganda May improve the effectiveness of radiation
Quercetins, vitamin B3, curcumin, vitamins A, C, and E

May enhance the effect of radiation

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