Breast Cancer Prevention
There have been plenty of new medications and treatments for breast cancer. That is astounding news. Today, a woman’s overall 5-year relative survival rate for breast cancer is 90%. This means 90 out of 100 women are alive 5 years after they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. The 10-year breast cancer relative survival rate is 84% (84 out of 100 women are alive after 10 years). These survival rates are based on many things, most importantly the time of diagnosis. We have heard that the earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis. Early detection involves screening tests, most commonly a mammogram. Technological advances in imaging have created new opportunities for improvements in both screening and early detection. The problem: Breast cancer prevention has not been talked about enough.
I want to discuss prevention. What are the potential modifiable risk factors that we have control over? One thing we need to understand is that the 2 main risk factors for breast cancer is age and gender. Clearly things we have no control over. But what can we do to be pro-active in reducing our risk as much as possible?
Approximately 67-80% of breast cancers in women are estrogen receptor (ER) positive. Also, about 90% of breast cancers in men are ER positive. So perhaps we should start there. Excess estrogen exposure can come from endogenous (what we synthesize in the body) and exogenous (environmental exposure) sources. Improving estrogen metabolism can be of benefit in reducing the risk of breast cancer. I have often said, “its not how much estrogen you have, but where is it gong…how is it being broken down?”
This brings us to the liver where the metabolism of estrogen takes place. It is complex but very important in that these metabolites vary greatly in biological activity. There is testing that can give us answers to this question of metabolites. Estrogen metabolite tests are completed through a 24-hour urine test which can personalize what your body needs to beneficially modulate estrogen metabolism. Another test that can give us insight into risks is a comprehensive stool analysis. It can identify a certain enzyme that can be modified as well as make sure you are digesting adequate fiber and nutrients that are important in affecting gene expression in the biological effects of estrogen.
Here are 10 things you can do right now to reduce breast cancer risk:
- Get a screening test. Talk to your provider about a breast mammogram, ultrasound or possibly a thermogram (a risk assessment tool). As I tell women…it’s important to just do something!
- Manage your weight and reduce your insulin level if it is high. Both estrogen and insulin are growth factors. Growth factors stimulate tumor growth and increase inflammation. Fat tissue also secretes estrogen. There are supplements that can help.
- Consider time restricted eating. Studies show that fasting daily for 14 hours can reduce breast cancer risk by 40%. Fasting also decreases the incidence of Type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic liver disease and esophageal reflux. Limit or avoid alcohol.
- Eat plenty of fiber, especially lignin (found in flaxseeds, bran, beans and seeds). It binds to free estrogen in circulation in the digestive tract which then gets excreted in the feces.
- Take the supplement Bioresponse DIM. A naturally occurring compound derived from cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage that is protective to estrogen sensitive tissues.
- Consume isoflavones such as soy or kudzu. Soy has gotten a “bad rap” with it’s association with breast cancer. They are phytoestrogens (plant compounds) that have the capacity to bind to estrogen receptors and appear to have both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic properties. The average daily intake of Japanese women is 20-80 mg and are associated with low rates of hormone-dependent cancers. American women consume 1-3 mg daily.
- Exercise everyday to reduce excess fat deposition where the enzyme aromatase converts adrenal hormones, like testosterone, into more estrogen and allows it to be more freely available.
- Reduce Environmental Estrogen (Xenoestrogen) Load. This includes avoiding foods and products with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, as well as non-organic cosmetics and soaps (which contain petrochemicals). Do not use plastic containers, especially when heating food in a microwave. For more information, check out Xenoestrogens
- Minimize stress: I know that is hard to do with the current state of the world. But find ways of calming the mind, such as meditation, yoga, therapy, reading books that inspire you and STOP listening/watching the news! Chronic stress raises Cortisol and depletes Progesterone leading to estrogen dominance and excess inflammation.
- Get good sleep. At least 7 hours/night is needed to clear toxic residue, repair damage from the brain and reduce cancer risk.
There are many other natural compounds and hormone-modulating herbs that have a significant benefit in promoting healthy estrogen balance. The percentage of inherited genetic mutations that cause breast cancer is less than 25%, whereas 65% -75% of breast cancers are traced to modifiable lifestyle factors. Talk to your practitioner about individual testing to identify what your risks might be in preventing breast cancer.
Reference: Cancer.gov. national cancer institute. “Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer.
Hall, D. Applied Nutritional Science Reports. “Nutritional Influences on estrogen metabolism”. MET451, 2001.
Lam, M. Estrogen Dominance. Preventative and Ant-Aging Medicine. www.designsforhealth.com.