This subject is near and dear to me. I have lost an aunt to breast cancer, another to lung cancer. As a health care provider, I have held the hands of many women as we discussed the lump in their breast, fearful of the worst. I am a woman and have a daughter – I am quite vested in knowing how to reduce the risk of any cancer for myself, my patients, and my family.
Please keep in mind that while 1 in 36 (3%) women die from breast cancer, 1 in 4 (25%) die from heart disease. I feel that one of the first things we can do to reduce our risk of dying from disease is to understand that half the population currently dies from heart disease and cancer (24% of all deaths) and to do as much as one can to lower one’s risk of both. The good news is that many of the things we do to prevent/lower our risk of heart disease will also reduce our risk of cancer and vice versa.
Back to breast cancer specifically…While 3% of women will die from breast cancer, 1 in 8 (12.4%) will get breast cancer. How can you lower your risk?
1. Exercise. Women who do not exercise on a regular basis have a higher rate of breast cancer.
2. Lose weight if overweight. Women who are overweight are twice as likely to get breast cancer.
3. Avoid more than one alcoholic beverage daily. Women who drink more than one alcoholic drink have 4 times the risk of getting breast cancer.
4. Eat cruciferous vegetables at least three times a week. The Brassica family includes cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, bok choy and cabbage. For our higher-risk patients, we frequently suggest the supplement DIM (Diindolymethane), the active ingredient in these foods – 100mg of DIM is equivalent to about two pounds of broccoli.
5. Go organic on the green leafy vegetables and potatoes. Unfortunately, these non-organic foods contain (in addition to pesticides) a toxin called cadmium. Cadmium is in the fertilizer used. Women with higher levels of cadmium are 21% more likely to get breast cancer – it also increases the risk of osteoporosis.
6. Consider taking estrogen. What? Yes, take estrogen. Over the last 10 years the evidence is clear – taking estrogen can reduce your risk of breast cancer by 33%, and invasive breast cancer by over 20%. The American Journal of Public Health just released a study demonstrating that the death toll in women not taking hormones is in the thousands (estimated 50,000). Estrogen will lower your risk of heart disease by 35% and colon cancer by 40%. If you use estrogen cream or patch there is NO risk of stroke (as opposed to pill form).
7. Eat red meat infrequently. Women who eat red meat regularly have a higher risk of breast cancer.
8. Perform self-breast exams and perform regular imaging. It is clear from the research that women who did mammograms regularly (every 1-2 years) are more apt to survive breast cancer. This is not a cancer prevention measure, but a way of early detection that will increase the odds of surviving a bout of cancer.
While there are other supplements and modalities to lower our risk of breast cancer (and heart disease), it really does come down to diet and lifestyle. Eat healthy and organic as best you can, exercise, sleep, and lower your stress and you will be reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease.
Renae Blanton, MSN, ANP is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Sonas Integrative Medical Center. She specializes in integrative family medicine with a focus on environmental issues such as lead toxicity, anti-aging, women’s health and chronic disease and illness. She can be reached at 970-247-2500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.