Breast Cancer: What You Might Not Know

A few years ago, I had the chance to speak to group of breast cancer survivors on the benefits of naturopathic medicine during breast cancer treatment. Besides discussing the many ways naturopathic medicine can off set side effects of chemotherapy and improve quality of life, I emphasized the importance of breast cancer prevention. Although genetics do play a large factor in whether a woman develops breast cancer, there are many things women need to know to reduce their risk. Since there is a 20% recurrence rate, women with breast cancer would also be wise to take these precautions.

Clean with Care

Some of the household cleaners we use daily could be doing more harm than good. Of particular concern are cleaning and detergent products containing alkylphenols, which are endocrine disruptors. Alkylphenols are estrogenic, meaning their chemical structure mimics estrogen, and has been found to nourish tumor growth and has been linked to breast cancer.

We might also need to toss some of our personal care products. For example, parabens used as preservatives in many cosmetics and cleansers are also estrogenic. In addition, many perfumes, eye shadows, moisturizers, liquid soaps, and hair sprays contain phthalates. Besides being estrogenic, phthalates induce proliferation, malignant invasion, and tumor formation in breast cancer cell lines. If you unsure of what's in your products, you can check out Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep.

Banish the Booze

Sorry to put a damper on Ladies' Night, but research consistently shows that drinking alcoholic beverages increases a woman's risk of hormone- receptor-positive breast cancer. This is because estrogen and other hormones are eliminated through the liver. When the liver's job is diverted to processing alcohol, estrogen levels can increase leading to estrogen dependent cancers. Alcohol also may increase breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells. It has been shown that women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer and this risk increases by 10% with each additional drink. While women who are particularly at risk for breast and other female cancers should probably avoid alcohol all together, the general guideline for women is no more than 1 drink per day. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

Ban the Can

Although they sit on the self so innocently many cans are lined with Bisphosphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen linked to a wide range of health problems, from heart disease to diabetes, reproductive problems, and obesity. Besides their effect on estrogen levels, they have been shown to interfere with chemotherapeutic agents. Even worse, BPA can also increase expression anti- cancer killing proteins. The worst are acidic foods, especially tomatoes, which cause the BPA to leach into your food. To avoid BPA, buy foods in glass or Tetra Box containers. Luckily, some manufactures are no longer using BPA in their canned products and they are labeled "BPA-free". Click here to learn which canned foods to avoid.

Know Sugar's not so Sweet Side

Added sugars including the seemingly virtuous agave and honey might be a cancer cell's best friend. In a 7 year study conducted by my naturopathic colleague, Dr Colleen Huber, who runs the only completely naturopathic cancer treatment center in the country, it was found that survival rates in cancer patients who were able to completely avoid added sugars achieved remission rates of 90%. In comparison, patients who continued to consume sugar had remission rates of only 36%. This is most likely since tumor cells take up blood glucose significantly more than normal cells. Moreover, elevated blood sugar has been correlated with cancer growth in breast, pancreatic, colorectal, and ovarian cancer. Even if you don't have cancer, the World Health Organization recommends sugar intake be no more that 5% of your daily calorie intake which is the equivalent of 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for most adults.