1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, which is a pretty scary thought. You’d like to prevent yourself from becoming one of the statistics, but what I see doctors advising women is to live a healthy lifestyle (obviously good advice) and to get a mammogram (ok – but the mammogram only shows a problem once you already HAVE breast cancer). There are so many things that you can be doing!
Some women, on the other hand, tell me that they aren’t really worried because they don’t have a family history. But only 10% of breast cancers are genetic. And even in people with a family history, genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.
Lots of things in our modern world INCREASE your risk – if you know what they are you can avoid them!
Cancer isn’t something that happens TO you, like catching a cold. Your cells are constantly dividing, and if one of your cells develops a mutation, it can start growing out of control – we call this cancer. Your immune system is supposed to find the abnormal cell and get rid of it before it has a chance to cause a problem. It typically takes 8 years for a mutated cell to divide and replicate enough to grow into a tumor large enough to be seen on a mammogram.
If the environment in your breast is healthy, it makes it harder for those abnormal breast cells to grown. If the environment is unhealthy – less oxygen in the tissues, less blood flow, imbalanced hormones, more acidic pH, lack of nutrients – this helps the cancer cells.
So lets talk about how to create a healthy breast environment!
What causes cancer:
There are 3 things that can cause a cell mutation that can lead to cancer:
- Radiation (for example, radiation from the sun (UV light) can cause skin cancer
- Viruses (for example, cervical cancer is caused by exposure to HPV, human papilloma virus
- Chemicals – we are constantly hearing about compounds that are “carcinogens” meaning cancer-causing
Immune system dysfunction, hormone imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, and many other things can HELP cancer cells, either by stimulating the growth, or by not doing a good job stopping the growth.
Genes can predispose you to an increased risk, but don’t directly cause cancer. For example, BRCA genes affect your cells ability to repair after damage from radiation. If you have the wrong form of the genes (like Angelina Jolie) you are at much higher risk for developing cancer. Fortunately, this genetic problem is not very common.
When I evaluate a women from a Functional Medicine point of view, I have a framework I follow:
We need to flush toxic chemicals from your system, which are often hormone disruptors and can be carcinogenic. I find that people often lose weight, have less achy muscles and joints and clearer skin just from this step.
The health of your digestive tract is important to your nutritional status, hormone balance and immune system function (which are all important for breast cancer prevention!), so it is important to make sure the lining of your gut is doing a good job. Typically I see less bloating and a flatter stomach within just a couple of days of starting to correct this.
We want to use food as medicine, and need to ensure that you have adequate levels of all the important nutrients your cells need to stay healthy. Eating right helps boosts energy and improves quality of sleep.
Balanced hormones play an important role in how you feel (everyone who’s gone through PMS can attest to that!) and they also play an important role in breast cancer. But estrogen is NOT the only hormone we need to talk about! Balanced hormones are important for all women and have a profound effect on your mood and memory.
Healthy lifestyle habits are important for breast cancer prevention, and a long list of other things. But finding SUSTAINABLE habits is important, so you can maintain the benefits for the long term.