The American Cancer Society says that women today have a 1 in 7 chance of developing breast cancer. Each year more than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,000 will die. The good news is that treatment for breast cancer has been moving forward rapidly.
Doctors now say that breast cancer must be understood as an umbrella of diseases that have different causes, arise from different types of cells, are driven by different genes, and tend to be different in women before or after menopause.
Lifestyle choices/factors that have a tremendous impact on breast cancer are HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and obesity. HRT (combining estrogen and progestin) was found to increase the risk of breast cancer by 26 percent. Obesity causes the fat cells to pump out chemicals that lead to higher estrogen levels which can generate estrogen-responsive breast tumors after menopause. Body fat also stores many environmental toxins. The less fat, the fewer toxins stored.
Our lifestyle choices can have an impact on whether estrogen breaks down into a cancer-causing or a cancer-blocking compounds. What to do?
- Keep your liver as healthy as possible; it helps your body shed excess estrogen.The liver is the nucleus of our body’s cleansing system, endlessly working to filter and purify our blood of toxins, which is why it’s important to detox your liver by reducing your exposure to as many toxins as possible. Increase your body’s ability to flush out toxins with aerobic exercise, saunas or steam baths, massage, deep healing breathwork, high fiber foods and plenty of purified or filtered water.
- Eat liver-fortifying foods include garlic, onions, broccoli and artichokes. The catechins in green tea also assist liver function, as do certain minerals and antioxidants like folate. Holistic health-care providers will also prescribe a course of treatment with any one of the following herbs (preferably all organic) for their liver-supportive roles: milk thistle, licorice, dandelion and burdock. Talk to your primary care physician before beginning any herbal therapy, especially if taking prescription drugs.
- Lessen your exposure to pesticides, hormones and carcinogenic ingredients with organic foods and natural personal care and household cleaning products. Reduce your intake of high-fat foods (which can increase estrogen levels), particularly animal proteins. Eat vegetables in abundance, especially crucifers—broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.— which help to turn the estrogen naturally produced in your body into a cancer preventive.
- Give yourself regular monthly self exams, along with a yearly medical breast exam, and mammograms as guided by your doctor. Thermograms, which are more sensitive than mammograms, are also gaining in popularity, especially for women who have dense breast tissue.
- Stick to your ideal weight. Studies show that women who gain 21 to 30 pounds after age 18 increase their risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by 40 percent. Women who gain more than 70 pounds double their risk compared with women who gained no more than 5 pounds or maintained a stable weight.
- Exercise regularly. Three and a half hours a week of sweat-producing exercise can cut your chances of breast cancer in half. Research studies show that the more exercise that you do over your lifetime, the greater your reduction in breast cancer risk.
- Make sure you get most of your vitamins and minerals from your diet—but consider supplementing with selenium—a common trace mineral and powerful antioxidant that studies show may help shield your breasts from cancer. A study conducted in low-selenium areas found that 200 mcg of selenium cut cancer risks in half! Cilantro is loaded with it; parsley has some as well. Check with your primary care physician about supplements.
- Bring mindfulness into all you do to manage stress and make the most life-affirming choices possible. Meditation is the primary “training” technique to become more mindful. Add in a regular yoga practice and pranayama (healing breathwork) to maintain mindbody equilibrium and calm. Uncontrolled stress wreaks havoc on all our body systems, including our endocrine system (the great hormonal regulator of our body).