October is breast cancer awareness month and while there will be much emphasis on screening mammograms and cancer treatment science, neither prevents breast cancer. Nor does genetic testing prevent breast cancer. But there are ways to prevent breast cancer while at the same time empowering your health in general.
- Avoid Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), estrogen and progesterone, even the bio-identical hormones, unless the symptoms of menopause warrant assuming a higher cancer risk. Several large scientific studies indicate that exposure to estrogen over a lifetime raises a woman’s risk of breast cancer (one reason men hardly get breast cancer). Breast tissue growth and development is an estrogen-dependent process affecting breast cells all the way to the level of their DNA. Furthermore, 80% of all breast cancers in America are found to be estrogen receptor positive and 65% of those are also progesterone positive, meaning that both hormones are driving the cancerous cells. Another very serious, but less discussed, issue is that estrogen treatments tend to create denser breast tissue which increases one’s risk of a false negative mammogram because denser breast tissue can hide a cancer that is small and early. And denser breasts also increase the likelihood of false positive mammograms, meaning additional studies may be needed, including breast biopsies. These issues can negatively impact a woman’s stress and mental health as much as physical health. If hormones are absolutely needed, I recommend limiting their use to a couple of years, just to get over the worse menopause symptoms. Usually, I educate women on how to use the estrogen they already have more wisely, the same with men and testosterone.
- Staying lean reduces a woman’s risk of breast cancer because fat cells are another source of estrogen. Weight gain at the time of menopause and thereafter is especially important to avoid with regard to breast cancer prevention.
- Exercise prevents breast cancer and the disability associated with a cancer diagnosis. That is in addition to creating a more metabolically active and lean body, one that is more likely to defend against a breast cancer conversion.
- Avoid hormone-infused meats and hormone disrupting chemicals such as BPA (bisphenol A), a weak synthetic estrogen found in many rigid plastic products, food and formula can linings, and on the shiny side of paper cashier receipts (to stabilize the ink). Other hormone disruptors are found in pesticides and food additives.
- Eating fiber contained in fresh fruits and vegetables also tends to lower a woman’s breast cancer risk. So eat produce with every meal and vary the colors.