I’m in my 50’s, and within the last couple of years I can count a half-dozen friends and acquaintances who have been stricken with breast cancer. Some have been treated and are now living normal lives, but another has died. Is there more of it now, or are we just getting to the age where breast cancer is expectable? And I’ve heard about so many things that can cause it – food, cell phones, hormones, pesticides, deodorant, genetics, sugar, you name it — that I’m practically afraid to step out the front door! Can you help separate the fact from the fiction?
Signed, Give Me the Skinny
What a great question! While there is a LOT of information around on breast cancer causes, it is not always easy to put the pieces together in a way that leads to actionable steps. Let’s start with separating FACT from FICTION.
FACT: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide (find a great interactive site with facts about cancer around the world here.) Great progress has been made in understanding both treatment and causes, and a plethora of screening and awareness programs is now available.
FICTION: A breast cancer diagnosis is merely an unlucky roll of the dice. Though nothing has been proven to eliminate cancer risk, it’s vital that every woman understands that she has the power to reduce her own breast cancer risk with simple lifestyle choices.
But the phrase ‘simple lifestyle choices’ is not a headline-maker…so a common sense approach to this subject is not always easy to find, though it is very real! Here’s what you need to know about reducing your breast cancer risk:
FACT: Excess weight and obesity increases breast cancer risk. In recent studies, researchers at Montefiore Medical Center looked at breast cancer patient outcomesand found that, despite state of the art treatment, excess weight or obesity increased breast cancer recurrence by 30%-50%! (Learn more about the study in this video from Montefiore Medical Center.)
FACT: Two-thirds of all breast cancers are fueled by excess or unbalanced estrogen. The increased risk detected in the Montefiore study was specifically linked to women whose breast cancer tumors were fueled by estrogen. What is the link between fat and estrogen, you ask?
FACT: Simply put, fat cells are mini-estrogen producing factories. So the more body fat we have, the more fat cells we have churning out estrogen – and raising the risk for breast cancer or its recurrence. Women with the most common forms of breast cancer who are overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis have significantly higher risk of breast cancer recurrence and death.
FACT: A healthy weight is the best defense against hormone imbalances that can fuel a breast cancer diagnosis or recurrence. Since an increase in body mass equaled an increase in breast cancer recurrence, your best choice for preventing or minimizing risk for breast cancer is losing weight and maintaining hormone balance.
With these facts in mind, now let’s talk about the best ways to turn these facts into positive action:
- LEARN: get the skinny on hormone basics here, in my short and easy-to-read primer on the function and interactions between cortisol, DHEA, estrogens, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid.
- TEST: Detect hormone imbalances such as estrogen dominance, low progesterone or high cortisol, all strongly associated with higher risks for breast cancer. Ask your doctor for a saliva test, or order yours online from a reputable supplier such as ZRT Labs or Canary Club . Once you have the results, consult with a health care professional or personal hormone consultant to understand the interactions and your best choices to achieve balance.
- ADJUST: Correct signs of estrogen dominance and other cancer-related hormone imbalances by losing weight and supplementing with natural, bio-identical progesterone (BHRT) to balance estrogen. And consider re-testing six months later to make sure you are maintaining optimum balance.
- EAT: To lose weight and reduce estrogen dominance, choose hormone-free, organic foods, fruits and vegetables as often as possible; reject simple sugars, carbs, and caffeine in excess. (Tip: Don’t think “I can’t have them”; instead think “I don’t want them!” This gives YOU back your power!)
- DO enjoy plenty of cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts that promote proper estrogen metabolism. These wonder-veggies can actually rid the body of xenoestrogens that dangerously raise estrogen levels. Consider supplements with the active ingredient DIM. (See my blogpost on “The Cruciferous Connection” here.)
- DO get your EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acids) and “good fats” in fish oil supplements, fresh salmon or other oily fish, avocados, olive or coconut oils, and nuts and seeds. These good fats help regulate cell reproduction, inhibit tumor growth, boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
- DO avoid bad estrogens, not only by choosing hormone-free foods, but by heating/microwaving in glass or ceramic (never plastic), using stainless steel or BPA-free water bottles, and switching to ‘green’ household, garden, and personal care products. (Milk is just one example of a food product where unnecessary hormones can lurk; learn more in my post here.)
- DRINK: Drink at least 64 ounces of water every day to flush out fat, free radicals, and other toxins that invite cancers.
- BE HAPPY: Balance your cortisol levels to normalize blood sugar and insulin levels, which provide raw fuel for tumors. Prioritize time each day to unwind and counteract stress with deep breathing and tension-releasing exercise such as stretching, yoga, swimming, and walking. Protect yourself from the cancer-inducing effects of toxic stress by doing the things you love to do and spending time with the people, pets and projects that calm, relax, engage, and ignite your zest for living, as well as your own immunities against cancer.
Do you have a question about the link between cancer and hormones? Ask me!