Top Tips to Decrease Your Breast Cancer Risk
By Dr. Mercola
Breast cancer is probably one of the most feared diagnoses a woman can get. The mere mention of it conjures up images of death, despair, or at best, disfigurement.
According to breastcancer.org,1 one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime, and nearly 40,000 women lose their lives to the disease each year.
With such odds stacked against you, what, if anything, can you do to prevent becoming a statistic? In truth, there are many measures you can take—each of which will help decrease your risk.
It's important to realize that less than 10 percent of all breast cancer cases are thought to be related to genetic risk factors.2 The remainder—90 percent—appear to be triggered by environmental factors.
I strongly believe that cancer is preventable through appropriate lifestyle changes, such as cleaning up your diet, optimizing your vitamin D levels, exercising, and avoiding toxins from every source you can.
This means taking careful inventory of the household and personal care products you use, and the furnishings and other potentially toxic items you get into contact with on a daily basis. Toxic overexposure undoubtedly play a major role in cancer development, and recent studies are finally starting to shed light on the worst offenders.
Scientists Identify 'Highest Priority' Toxins for Breast Cancer Prevention
According to recent research published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) journal, Environmental Health Perspectives,3 you can reduce your risk of breast cancer by avoiding certain chemicals found in common, everyday products. As reported by Rodale:4
"Because the study found that animal tests are able to predict likely human breast carcinogens, the new report could serve as a major step forward in breast cancer prevention, expanding the list of possible breast cancer triggers. That's especially important because only about 10 percent of breast cancers are genetic in nature—scientists believe environment plays a huge role...
'Every woman in America has been exposed to chemicals that may increase her risk of getting breast cancer. Unfortunately, the link between toxic chemicals and breast cancer has largely been ignored,' says Julia Brody, PhD, study author and executive director at Silent Spring Institute. 'Reducing chemical exposures could save many, many women's lives.'"
In a previous study, the researchers had identified 216 chemicals that increase mammary gland tumors in rodents. In this paper, they narrowed the focus to 102 chemicals that large numbers of women are exposed to on a regular basis, through food, medications, air pollution, or consumer products.
They then prioritized the chemicals, and grouped them based on exposure, carcinogenic potential, and chemical structure. This sorting resulted in 17 chemical groups of related chemicals, which were flagged as "high priority" due to their ability to consistently produce mammary tumors in animal tests.
Their list of cancer-causing chemical groups to avoid, and their most common sources of exposure, includes the following. Another 27 different carcinogens that do not fit into the chemical categories listed below are also considered high priority. These chemicals include certain ones found in pesticides, consumer products, and food.
Two examples of the latter are methyl eugenol, which is used in processed food as a natural and artificial flavoring, and nitrosamines in smoked meats. The researchers also list obesity and medical radiation as preventable risk factors, the latter of which would include unnecessary mammograms.
High Priority Chemicals to Avoid for Breast Cancer Prevention
Flame retardants: Flame retardant products, polyester resins, plastic polymers, and rigid polyurethane foams
Acrylamide: Diet (especially starchy foods, such as French fries, cooked at high temperatures), tobacco smoke, and polyacrylamide gels in consumer products, such as diapers
Aromatic amines: Polyurethane, pesticides, Azo dyes, and many other products
Benzene: Gasoline (riding in a car, pumping gasoline, and storing gasoline in a basement or attached garage), tobacco smoke, adhesive removers, paints, sealants, finishers, and engine fuel and oils
Halogenated organic solvents: Dry cleaning, hair spray propellant, soil fumigants, food processing, gasoline additives, and paint and spot removers
Ethylene (EtO) and propylene oxide (PO): EtO is a gas used to sterilize medical equipment, food and spices, clothing, and musical instruments. Also found in tobacco smoke and auto exhaust. PO is a sterilant and fumigant. Also found in automotive and paint products
1,3-Butadiene: Cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust, gasoline fumes, and emissions from industrial facilities
Heterocyclic amines: Meat cooked at high temperatures, and tobacco smoke
Endogenous and pharmaceutical hormones and other endocrine disrupting chemicals: Estrogens, progesterone, and DES, along with other hormones
Non-hormonal pharmaceuticals that have hormonal activity: These include four chemotherapeutic agents, two veterinary drugs possibly present in food, the diuretic furosemide, the anti-fungal griseofulvin, and several anti-infective agents
MX: One of hundreds of genotoxic by-products of drinking water disinfection
Perfluorooctanoic acid PFOA: Non-stick and stain-resistant coatings on rugs, furniture, clothes and cookware; fire-fighting applications, cosmetics, lubricants, paints, and adhesives
Nitro-PAHs: Air pollution, primarily from diesel exhaust
PAHs: Tobacco smoke, air pollution, and charred foods
Ochratoxin A (a naturally occurring mycotoxin): Contaminated grain, nuts, and pork products
Styrene: Food that has been in contact with polystyrene; consumer products and building materials, including polystyrene, carpets, adhesives, hobby and craft supplies, and home maintenance products
Flame Retardants Do FAR More Harm Than Good...
While it's difficult to single out any particular chemical grouping as being "the worst," fire retardants may fit the bill by the fact that they are used in so many furnishings, including your mattress, where you spend a significant portion of your life. Last year, I wrote about the deceptive campaigns that led to the proliferation of fire retardant chemicals. As reported in an investigative series "Playing With Fire" by the Chicago Tribune:5
"The average American baby is born with 10 fingers, 10 toes and the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world. The toxic chemicals are present in nearly every home, packed into couches, chairs and many other products. Two powerful industries — Big Tobacco and chemical manufacturers — waged deceptive campaigns that led to the proliferation of these chemicals, which don't even work as promised."
An estimated 90 percent of Americans have flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies, and many studies have linked them to human health risks, including infertility, birth defects, lower IQ scores, behavioral problems in children, as well as liver, kidney, testicular, and breast cancers.
Flame-retardant chemicals belong to the same class of chemicals as DDT and PCBs (organohalogens), and like the former, they, too, build up in the environment. These chemicals also react with other toxins as they burn to produce cancer-causing dioxins and furans. The chemical industry claims that fire-retardant furniture increases escape time in a fire by 15-fold.
In reality, this claim came from a study using powerful, NASA-style flame retardants, which provided an extra 15 seconds of escape time. But this is not the same type of chemical used in most furniture, and government and independent studies show that the most widely used flame-retardant chemicals provide no benefit for people while increasing the amounts of toxic chemicals in smoke.
A flame-retardant chemical known as chlorinated tris (TDCPP) was removed from children's pajamas in the 1970s amid concerns that it may cause cancer, but now it's a ubiquitous addition to couch cushions across the United States. As for your mattress, I recommend getting one that's either made of 100% wool or Kevlar, both of which are natural flame retardant without added chemicals.
Antiperspirants and Cosmetics—Other Major Culprits
Parabens are chemicals that serve as preservatives in antiperspirants and many cosmetics, as well as sun lotions. Previous studies have shown that all parabens have estrogenic activity in human breast cancer cells. Research published in 20126 found one or more paraben esters in 99 percent of the 160 tissue samples collected from 40 mastectomies. The consistent presence of parabens in cancerous human breast tissue suggests antiperspirants and other cosmetics may also increase your risk of breast cancer.
While antiperspirants are a common source of parabens, the authors note that the source of the parabens cannot be established, and that seven of the 40 patients reportedly never used deodorants or antiperspirants in their lifetime. What this tells us is that parabens, regardless of the source, can bioaccumulate in breast tissue. And the sources are many. Parabens can be found in a wide variety of personal care products, cosmetics, as well as drugs. That said, it appears the dermal route is the most significant form of exposure. Another component of antiperspirants, aluminum chloride, has been found to act similarly to the way oncogenes work to provide molecular transformations in cancer cells.
Other Breast Cancer Prevention Strategies
In the largest review of research into lifestyle and breast cancer, the American Institute of Cancer Research estimated that about 40 percent of US breast cancer cases could be prevented if people made wiser lifestyle choices. I believe these are low-ball estimates. More than likely, 75 percent to 90 percent of breast cancers could be avoided by strictly applying the lifestyle modifications recommended below.
Key Dietary Guidelines
Avoid sugar, especially fructose. Reduce or eliminate processed foods, sugar/fructose, and grain-based foods from your diet. All forms of sugar are detrimental to health in general and promote cancer. Fructose, however, is clearly one of the most harmful. As a general guideline, limit your total fructose intake to less than 25 grams daily. If you have cancer or are insulin resistant, you would be wise to restrict it to 15 grams or less.
Limit protein and increase healthy fat: Consider reducing your protein levels to one gram per kilogram of lean body weight. It would be unusual for most adults to need more than 100 grams of protein and most likely close to half of that amount. Replace the eliminated protein and carbs with high-quality fats, such as organic eggs from pastured hens, high-quality meats, avocados, and coconut oil. There's compelling evidence that a ketogenic diet helps preventand treat many forms of cancer.
Get plenty of natural vitamin A. There is evidence that vitamin A plays a role in helping prevent breast cancer.7 It's best to obtain it from vitamin A-rich foods, rather than a supplement. Your best sources are organic egg yolks, raw butter, raw whole milk, and beef or chicken liver. However, beware of supplementing as there's some evidence that excessive vitamin A can negate the benefits of vitamin D. Since appropriate vitamin D levels are crucial for your health in general, not to mention cancer prevention, this means that it's essential to have the proper ratio of vitamin D to vitamin A in your body.
Ideally, you'll want to provide all the vitamin A and vitamin D substrate your body needs in such a way that your body can regulate both systems naturally. This is best done by eating colorful vegetables (for vitamin A) and by exposing your skin to safe amounts of sunshine every day (for vitamin D).
Get sufficient amounts of iodine. Iodine is an essential trace element required for the synthesis of hormones, and the lack of it can also cause or contribute to the development of a number of health problems, including breast cancer. This is because your breasts absorb and use a lot of iodine, which they need for proper cellular function. Iodine deficiency or insufficiency in any of tissue will lead to dysfunction of that tissue, and tumors are one possibility.However, there's significant controversy over the appropriate dosage, so you need to use caution here. There's evidence indicating that taking mega-doses, in the tens of milligram range may be counterproductive. One recent study suggests it might not be wise to get more than about 800 mcg of iodine per day, and supplementing with as much as 12-13 mg (12,000-13,000 mcgs) could potentially have some adverse health effects.8
Nourish your gut: Optimizing your gut flora will reduce inflammation and strengthen your immune response. Researchers have found a microbe-dependent mechanism through which some cancers mount an inflammatory response that fuels their development and growth. They suggest that inhibiting inflammatory cytokines might slow cancer progression and improve the response to chemotherapy. Adding naturally fermented food to your daily diet is an easy way to prevent cancer or speed recovery. You can always add a high-quality probiotic supplement as well, but naturally fermented foods are the best.
Avoid GMOs: Avoid genetically engineered foods as they are typically treated with herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate), which are likely to be carcinogenic. A French research team that has extensively studied Roundup concluded it's toxic to human cells, and likely carcinogenic to humans. Choose fresh, organic, preferably locally growth foods.
Avoid charring your meats. Charcoal or flame broiled meat is linked with increased breast cancer risk. Acrylamide—a carcinogen created when starchy foods are baked, roasted, or fried—has been found to increase breast cancer risk as well.
Avoid unfermented soy products. Unfermented soy is high in plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens, also known as isoflavones. In some studies, soy appears to work in concert with human estrogen to increase breast cell proliferation, which increases the chances for mutations and cancerous cells.
Drink a quart of organic green vegetable juice daily. Please review my juicing instructions for more detailed information.
Add cancer-fighting whole foods, herbs, and spices to your diet, such as broccoli. To learn more about how anti-angiogenetic foods fight cancer, please see our previous article: "Dramatically Effective New Natural Way to Starve Cancer and Obesity."
Curcumin. This is the active ingredient in turmeric and in high concentrations can be very useful in the treatment of breast cancer. It shows immense therapeutic potential in preventing breast cancer metastasis.9 To learn more about its use for the prevention of cancer, please see my interview with Dr. William LaValley.
Avoid drinking alcohol, or at least limit your alcoholic drinks to one per day.
Other Lifestyle Strategies for the Prevention of Breast Cancer
Optimize your vitamin D. Vitamin D influences virtually every cell in your body and is one of nature's most potent cancer fighters. There are well over 800 references in the medical literature showing vitamin Ds effectiveness against cancer. Vitamin D is actually able to enter cancer cells and trigger apoptosis (cell death). Research has shown vitamin D kills cancer cells as effectively as the toxic breast cancer drug Tamoxifen, without any of the detrimental side effects and at a tiny fraction of the cost. Vitamin D works synergistically with every cancer treatment I'm aware of, with no adverse effects.
According to Carole Baggerly, founder of GrassrootsHealth, as much as 90 percent of ordinary breast cancer may in fact be related to vitamin D deficiency. Most recently, a meta-analysis of five studies published in the March 2014 issue of Anticancer Research10 found that patients diagnosed with breast cancer who had high vitamin D levels were twice as likely to survive compared to women with low levels.11, 12, 13 The high serum group had an average vitamin D level of 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). Women in the low serum group averaged 17 ng/ml, which is the average vitamin D level found in American breast cancer patients.14
The researchers urge physicians to make vitamin D monitoring and optimization part of standard breast cancer care. According to the featured findings, you need at least 30 ng/ml of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) to prevent cancer from spreading. That said, other research suggests you'd be better off with levels as high as 80 ng/ml. One 2011 study15, 16 found that a vitamin D level of 50 ng/ml is associated with a 50 percent lower risk of breast cancer.
Maintain a healthy body weight. This will come naturally when you begin eating right for your nutritional type and exercising. It's important to lose excess body fat because fat produces estrogen, which can fuel breast cancer.
Improve your insulin/leptin receptor sensitivity. The best way to do this is by avoiding sugar and grains and making sure you are exercising regularly, ideally by incorporating the principles of Peak Fitness.
Avoid xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are synthetic chemicals that mimic natural estrogens. They have been linked to a wide range of human health effects, including reduced sperm counts in men and increased risk of breast cancer in women. There are a large number of xenoestrogens, such as bovine growth hormones in commercial dairy, plastics like bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and parabens in personal care products, and chemicals used in non-stick materials, just to name a few.
Breastfeed exclusively for up to six months. Research shows this will reduce your breast cancer risk.17
Avoid wearing underwire bras. There is a good deal of data that metal underwire bras increase your breast cancer risk.
Avoid electromagnetic fields as much as possible. Limit your exposure and protect yourself from radiation produced by cell phones, towers, base stations, and Wi-Fi stations, as well as minimizing your exposure from radiation-based medical scans, including dental x-rays, CT scans, and mammograms. Items such as electric blanketscan be particularly troublesome and increase your cancer risk.
Get enough sleep: Make sure you are getting enough restorative sleep. Poor sleep can interfere with your melatonin production, which is associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance and weight gain, both of which contribute to cancer's virility.
Employ effective stress management tools: Stress from all causes is a major contributor to disease. Even the CDC states that 85 percent of disease is driven by emotional factors. It is likely that stress and unresolved emotional issues may be more important than the physical ones, so make sure this is addressed. My favorite tool for resolving emotional challenges is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
Taking Control of Your Lifestyle Can Significantly Reduce Your Odds of Cancer
Preventing breast cancer is far more important and powerful than simply trying to detect it, and avoiding chemical hazards such as those reviewed above are a big part of any cancer prevention strategy. The question is, how do you avoid them when there are so many? My answer is to clean up your life to where your food, water, clothes, furnishings, and other products you come into regular contact with are as close to natural and unprocessed as possible.
This means seeking out organically-produced items—be it a piece of food, clothing, bed linens, laundry detergent, or shampoo. All of it counts, as it's the accumulated exposure from all these varied sources that end up wreaking havoc. In the case of household cleansers and personal care items, you can inexpensively replace most or all of them with just a few simple, non-toxic ingredients. Coconut oil, for example, has countless uses around the house. Ditto for baking soda and vinegar. Many of the recommendations listed above will also automatically reduce your exposure to cancer-causing toxins.