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Prevent and Treat Breast Cancer Naturally

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Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women ages 35 to 54 and our risk is rising. In 1960, one in 20 developed breast cancer; today one in eight women will get it. Of those who have breast cancer, one in four will die.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women ages 35 to 54 and our risk is rising. In 1960, one in 20 developed breast cancer; today one in eight women will get it. Of those who have breast cancer, one in four will die.

Ongoing research is looking into the genetic causes of breast cancer, but we know heredity plays a role in less than 10 percent of cases. A full 80 percent of all cancers are thought to be related to environmental factors. This means we can reduce our risk to breast cancer. We can adopt a prevention strategy. But first we need to understand how breast cancer develops in the body and what the risk factors are.

This month - in part one of a four-part series on breast cancer - I will provide an overview of breast cancer and examine key risk factors. The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Test will help you evaluate your own personal risk.

ABCs of Breast Cancer

Normal healthy cells go through a series of steps to ensure life. They grow, divide, and die in a carefully performed, predetermined symphony. During this highly complex process, the cell’s genetic code of DNA is duplicated and transferred to new cells. Normally this process takes place without error, but every once in a while a mistake occurs. Most mistakes are quickly repaired, but on occasion a mistake may miss detection and cells will be allowed to perform differently than usual. Normal cell conduct organizes cells into their correct location, turns growth off and on as required, and ensures that cells do not crowd each other.

Birth of a Cancer Cell

Cancer cells do not play by the rules. Cancer begins from normal cells that become renegades. These abnormal cells, also called malignant cells, turn the immune system against itself, multiply unchecked, steal nutrients, reroute blood supplies away from normal body functions and lack preprogrammed cell death (called apoptosis). Because these turncoat cells are similar to other healthy cells, often the immune system fails to detect and kill them. The cancer cells’ goal is to survive at all cost even if they kill their host.

What are the Causes of Cancer?

Defects in the genetic code of the cell are not the sole cause of cancer. The damage caused by pesticides, hormones, viruses, toxic agents, radiation, and too much stress is not, by itself, a clear cause. But cellular defects combined with environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to the development of cancer. This is why it is so important to define what external factors increase our risk of developing breast cancer.

According to Dr. Susan Love, author of Breast Book (Perseus Books Group, 1995), breast cancer is believed to be caused by a combination of genes that are mutated by carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), which cause uncontrolled growth in cells strictly confined to the ductal or lobular units of the breast. These are called precancerous lesions of the breast. Then, with additional mutations, these cells break out of the duct or lobule into the surrounding fat and tissue. It may only take one cell, but in its mutated form it can develop into an invasive tumour with its own blood supply and with the potential to spread (metastasize). Understanding the “true” risk factors for breast cancer is essential to preventing this process from occurring in the first place.

Samuel Epstein, MD, coauthor of The Breast Cancer Prevention Program (John Wiley and Sons Inc., 1997), believes there are twelve common but unpublicized risks for breast cancer compared to the three risk factors publicized by the Canadian Cancer Society. All twelve are included in the risk assessment test.

Estrogen - Friend or Foe?

At the top the list of risk factors for breast cancer are the use of the hormone estrogen and exposure to environmental toxic estrogens called xenoestrogens (pronounced “zeno”-estrogens). Xenoestrogens are found in soft plastic products, plastic wrap, medical plastics used in IV bags and oxygen tubing, pesticide-laden foods (fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat), dioxins, cosmetics, hair dyes, chemicals used to bleach feminine hygiene products, dry-cleaning chemicals, and nail polish.

These environmental estrogens are dangerous for several reasons: they act like estrogen in the body; they cause our own estrogen to convert to cancer-causing forms of estrogen; they increase our risk of breast, ovarian, endometrial and prostate cancer; they promote infertility by suppressing progesterone; and they cause girls to menstruate earlier (precocious puberty).

Xenoestrogens may be the biggest contributing factor to increased rates of breast cancer. Yet most women do not know that common substances they use everyday are increasing their risk - things that they could and would avoid if they knew what and where they were.

HRT and Breast Cancer

Estrogen is commonly prescribed for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), either alone or in combination with progestins. In July 2002, the debate about the safety of estrogen plus progestins finally ended. HRT is now identified as a breast-cancer-causing agent. In addition, in 2002, the US Food and Drug Administration listed estrogen as a carcinogenic agent.

The Women’s Health Initiative Study involved 16,608 women, half of whom were given a placebo, and half of whom were taking combined conjugated equine estrogen plus progestin (Prempro™). The study found that the reduction of menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness offered by HRT came with disastrous health consequences. This randomized controlled trial, scheduled to run 8.5 years, was abruptly halted at 5.2 years because women in the treatment group showed a 24-per-cent increased risk of invasive breast cancer. The treatment was also shown to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and dementia. HRT has also been linked to liver disease, low thyroid, weight gain, and more.

This is not the first study to show increased risk of breast cancer from HRT, but this is the one that the scientific community is listening to.

I have heard advocates trying to redeem HRT by saying it is “only” eight women in 10,000 that will get breast cancer as a result of HRT. I would like those making this statement to make it personal&those eight women could be their mother, sisters, daughters, wife, grandmother, best friend, and aunts. Considering that 22 million prescriptions for HRT were written in 2000 and the drugs have been in use for several decades, we are talking about tens of thousands of women developing breast cancer in the future who otherwise may not have.

The following risk assessment test will help you discover your own personal risk. In next month’s I will look at all the prevention strategies you can adopt to help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Test

Have not had children and are in menopause - 3
Have not had children and are age 35 or older - 2
Did not breastfeed - 2
Took birth control pills during teens or early twenties. (ten years use increases risk by 30 percent.) - 3
Have taken or are taking HRT - 3
Have had regular mammograms before menopause (premenopausal breasts are very dense, often requiring multiple mammograms Breast trauma during mammogram can also increase risk.) - 2
Don’t exercise three times per week - 2
Have had depression where tricyclic anti-depressants were prescribed (studies showed increase in mammary tumors in rats) - 2
Have breast implants (cause breast trauma) - 1
Had chest x-rays as a teenager or during twenties (cause DNA damage) - 2
Are exposed to electric magnetic fields (EMFs) through excessive computer usage, hair dryer use, live close to electrical power lines (Hair dressers are at higher risk of breast cancer.) - 1
Dye your hair with dark-coloured dyes containing phenylenediamine - 2 
Wear dry-cleaned clothing (a source of xenoestrogens) - 1
Use bleached sanitary products i.e., tampons and pads (a source of xenoestrogens) - 2 
Eat pesticide- and herbicide-laden food, veggies, meat, eggs, dairy, and fish (a source of xenoestrogens) - 3 
Use nail polish that is not tolulene- or phthalate-free (a source of xenoestrogens) - 1 
Periods started before the age of twelve - 2 
Late onset menopause after the age of 54 - 2 
Eat a diet high in animal fat, dairy, and meat (sources of xenoestrogens) - 3 
Smoke, with early or excessive use - 3 
Alcohol, with early or excessive use - 3 
Don’t eat cruciferous vegetables (these vegetables detoxify carcinogenic estrogens) - 3 
Take cholesterol lowering drugs like statins that deplete the body of Q10 (Q10 may help prevent breast cancer) - 3 
Using ulcer medications, which disrupt estrogen metabolism, decreasing good estrogen - 2 
You are overweight or obese (fat stores estrogens) - 3 
Family history in a first-degree relative - mother, daughter or sister (family history is related to less than 10 percent of breast cancer cases) - 1 


Total Score

0-18 low risk
19-35 moderate to high risk
35-57 high risk

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