One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. After lung cancer, breast cancer is the number one cancer among females. Researchers found that between 1970 and 2014, the number of cases increased more than four-fold.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Breast cancer is a multifactorial disease, meaning multiple culprits often contribute to its development. Some of these risk factors you can’t control, including:
- Being female (while rare, breast cancer can also occur in men)
- Getting older (the median age for being diagnosed is 62)
- Having your first child after 30 or not having children
- Reaching menopause after 55
- Starting menstruation prior to age 12
- Familial history
- Ethnicity (for instance, African-American women are at higher risk than Caucasian women)
- Being a carrier of the breast cancer gene
At the same time, many risk factors are within your control. According to Sara Gottfried, MD in her book Younger, among them include:
- Ionizing radiation such as from X-rays, CT scans, and long flights on planes
- Synthetic hormones
- Physical inactivity
- Artificial light at night
Even if you have a familial history or you fall within a demographic more susceptible, you have plenty of control to prevent breast cancer.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease where breast cells grow out of control. Breast cancer can begin in different parts of the breast, though most cases begin in the ducts or lobules. Breast cancer can also spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.
While there are different types of breast cancer, they fall into two broad categories:
- Invasive breast cancer: Cancerous cells break through normal breast tissue barriers and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and lymph nodes.
- Noninvasive breast cancer: Cancerous cells remain in a particular location of the breast, without spreading to surrounding tissue, lobules or ducts.
- Skin changes including swelling and redness
- Increase in size or change in shape of the breast(s)
- Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- General pain in or on any part of the breast
- Lumps or nodes on or inside of the breast
Symptoms more specific to invasive breast cancer (which can spread to other parts of the body) include:
- Irritated or itchy breasts
- Change in breast color
- Increase in breast size or shape over a short period of time
- Changes in touch (such as hard, tender, or warm)
- Peeling or flaking of the nipple skin
- A breast lump
- Redness or pitting of the breast skin (like the skin of an orange)
Breast Cancer Awareness: Mammograms, Self Examinations & More
Signs of breast cancer aren’t always obvious, but some organizations including the National Breast Cancer Foundation recommend a self-examination once a month to help you identify any lumps or other irregularities that you can address with a healthcare professional. Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump with a breast self-exam.
What is a Mammogram?
If you suspect abnormal signs or symptoms, working with your authorized medical professional (who will likely suggest a mammogram) can help diagnose your condition.
A mammogram uses low-dose x-rays to detect cancer early before women experience symptoms, but can also help if you do experience symptoms including a lump or pain. A radiologist will analyze the images and send a signed report to your physician, who can discuss the results with you.
Critics argue that you have a slight chance of cancer from excessive exposure to radiation, but some studies conclude that overall, the benefits of a mammogram outweigh the risk. This review can help you make a more informed decision, and please discuss any concerns about benefits and risks with your healthcare professional.
Beyond regular mammograms, educating yourself, finding the right support system, and early detections are your best strategies for breast cancer awareness. But the best awareness to prevent or reduce breast cancer risk is what you put on the end of your fork.
While some organizations recommend that you should regularly do a breast self-examination, please do not diagnose yourself or dismiss any concerns. If you suspect anything, always visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. This article is not intended to help anyone diagnose themselves. Instead, we want to provide perspectives on this topic including natural strategies to prevent or reduce breast cancer.
Prevent or Reduce Breast Cancer Risk with Healthy Living
Researchers find breast cancer rates are concurrent with western metabolic epidemics including obesity and diabetes. In other words, obesity and diabetes have increased in proportion to increases in breast cancer, which shares major risk factors with these diseases.
If you’re overweight or obese, a vicious cycle results as you increase your risk for complications including diabetes and breast cancer.
Conversely, when you maintain a healthy weight, you reduce your risk for diseases including diabetes and breast cancer. Researchers find obesity can create a 25 to 50 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer recurrence or death.
Healthy Diet to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
Diet is foremost in this strategy. A whole foods diet, rich in nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants have cancer-preventive activity. The best diet to prevent or reduce breast cancer risk also helps maintain healthy blood sugar and low insulin levels.
That includes plenty of non-starchy vegetables, clean protein sources, healthy fats, and other fiber-rich plant foods. Among the standout foods that can prevent or reduce breast cancer risk include:
- Wild-caught fish is high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Some (but not all) studies show women with high intake of EPA and DHA compared with the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid have a reduced risk of breast cancer compared with those with low ratios.
- Researchers note that sulforaphane, found in cruciferous vegetables including broccoli and kale, “can halt human breast cancer cells in their tracks.”
- The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of berries can protect against DNA damage and other triggers for cancer.
- Flaxseeds are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid α-linolenic acid (ALA) along with dietary fiber and the polyphenol lignan. Animal studies show ALA can suppress growth, size, and proliferation of cancer cells and also to promote breast cancer cell death. Some clinical trials also found that flaxseed can decrease breast cancer risk, mainly in postmenopausal women. Our Essential Bar contains flaxseeds and other anti-inflammatory ingredients.
- Walnuts are also rich in the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid ALA along with nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber that can protect against cancer.
- Extra-virgin olive oil contains high levels of nutrients and antioxidants that can potentially reduce DNA damage, decrease cancer cell growth, and increase the self-destruction of cancer cells.
- Green tea, rich in the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), provides numerous anti-cancer benefits.
Choosing the cleanest sources of these foods is crucial. Organic foods are less likely to carry pesticide residue compared with conventional foods. Likewise, grass-fed meat contains a superior nutrient profile with more anti-inflammatory fat than grain-fed meat.
7 Ways to Promote Good Breast Health
Like any disease, breast cancer is a multifactorial disease with more than one culprit. Numerous factors, including chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalances, can drive obesity and insulin resistance that contribute to breast cancer.
At the same time, what you eat and how you live can have a dramatic effect on your risk of developing breast cancer. These seven strategies create a healthy lifestyle foundation to cultivate optimal health.
1. Eat more anti-inflammatory foods.
Chronic inflammation is a significant driver for breast cancer, obesity, and hormonal imbalances including insulin resistance. Along with eating plenty of non-starchy plant foods, include anti-inflammatory foods like wild-caught fish and flaxseeds. If you aren’t regularly eating them or want therapeutic amounts of omega-3 fatty acids to balance the ratio of inflammatory fats, look for a supplement that combines fish oil and flax oil.
2. Limit or eliminate alcohol.
One critical review found that “all levels of evidence showed a risk relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of breast cancer, even at low levels of consumption.” In other words, no alcohol (even “healthy” red wine) is your best choice to reduce or prevent breast cancer. If eliminating alcohol isn’t an option for you, limit it. The Dietary Guidelines recommend up to one drink daily — that’s a five-ounce wine pour, to put it into perspective.
3. Get the right nutrients.
Optimal levels of certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can help prevent or reduce breast cancer risk. For instance, Vitamin D can reduce your risk of breast cancer by inhibiting cancer invasion and metastasis, while a lower intake of the B vitamin folate can increase risk. Talk with your chiropractor or other healthcare professional about the right nutrients for your individualized needs.
4. Optimize sleep.
One study found that short sleep duration and frequent snoring created significantly poorer cancer-specific survival, particularly for women with breast cancer. Optimal sleep levels — not too much and not too little — can also help balance hormones and support immune health. If getting eight hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep feels like a challenge, look for a sleep support supplement that helps you naturally fall and stay asleep.
“Overall, exercise consistently reduces breast cancer risk by 12 to 60 percent,” says Gottfried. “One hour per day of walking lowers risk by 14 percent. You can even prevent pre-cancer of the breast.” Whatever your current fitness level, follow these simple tips to help you develop an effective, efficient exercise routine.
6. Manage stress levels.
Finding ways to de-stress is a necessity, not a luxury, to prevent or reverse breast cancer. Copious research shows chronic stress can contribute to breast cancer and other cancers. Numerous studies also show meditation, mindfulness, and yoga are among the strategies to effectively manage stress. What matters is what works for you and what you’ll do consistently.
7. Become more aware of common products you use.
Numerous chemicals in products you use daily can contribute to breast cancer. Research associates phthalates (found in many shampoos, deodorants, nail polish, and other beauty products) with breast cancer. Make sure you know which ingredients to avoid in your personal care products. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has an excellent guide to avoiding phthalates and other environmental pollutants associated with breast cancer.
One final strategy: discover Chiropractic. “Cancer patients… often respond well to chiropractic care, achieving outcomes that are unattainable by medication or other therapies, or that reduce the patient’s requirement for analgesic or narcotic medication,” researchers in one case report conclude.
For women who have had breast cancer treatment, visiting a chiropractor can help relieve headaches as well as back and joint pain. On a preventive basis, the fundamental premise of traditional chiropractic care focuses on supporting all systems of the body via the central nervous system. Research surrounding chiropractic care and the immune system continues to develop.
A chiropractor can also develop a customized dietary and lifestyle protocol that helps reduce or prevent breast cancer and works as a complementary approach to your physician’s strategies.