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Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer—Reducing Your Risk

Breast cancer is powerful health foe and is the second most common type of cancer among women in the U.S. (next to skin cancers) and the second leading cause of death due to cancer, after lung cancer.1 This article will help you learn the truth behind breast cancer and how you may be able to reduce your risk of getting it.

The Reality of Breast Cancer

In 2011, approximately 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 57,650 cases of in situ carcinoma were diagnosed.2 Men can also develop breast cancer, although not as often as women. Only one percent of U.S. men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually.2

The most recent numbers indicate that one in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.2 Yet, as one group of researchers pointed out, “Wrongly interpreted, this fact may lead to the assumption that every American woman is at ‘high risk’ for breast cancer development. However, this is not the case: in fact, an individual woman’s risk of breast cancer development over the next 10 years will never be greater than 1 in 25.”2-3

What Puts You at Risk?

When determining if you have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, doctors and scientists often look at your genes. Specific gene mutations as well as certain traits such as having dense breasts or fibrocystic breast disease are blamed for between five to 27 percent of all breast cancers.4

You might have heard of the two most well-known gene mutations responsible for breast cancer. These mutations occur in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. When these genes are working properly, they help prevent cancer by making proteins that stop cells from growing abnormally. However, in people who inherit a mutated copy of these genes, the breast cancer risk skyrockets as high as 60 to 80 percent. Breast cancers caused by BRCA1 and BRCA 2 mutations often occur in younger women and affect both breasts.

You can have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation no matter what your racial or ethnic group. But if you are a Jewish woman of Eastern Europe descent, you’re even more likely to have one of these mutations. However, BRCA mutations are not responsible for the vast majority of cancer cases.5-9

Other gene mutations exist that are even rarer than the BRCA gene mutations. These include mutations in the ATM gene, which normally helps repair your damaged DNA, the TP53 gene, which helps your body manufacture a protein known as p53 that helps halt the growth of abnormal cells, and the PTEN gene, which normally helps regulate cell growth.

Your doctor can order tests to determine if you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. You can also ask for an OncoVue® Breast Cancer Risk Test.

While the test doesn’t detect BRCA mutations, it can predict your breast cancer risk by evaluating gene mutations linked to breast cancer. The results are incorporated along with your personal history to determine breast cancer risk at different times during your adulthood (pre-menopause, peri-menopause and post-menopause). OncoVue is not intended to be a stand-alone test in determining your risk of breast cancer, but should be used as part of a full assessment.

OncoVue is available only through the Breast Cancer Risk Testing Network (BCRTN), whose members use OncoVue as part of a comprehensive education program to help you understand your risk level and what can be done to reduce your risk. There are approximately 32 participating centers located in 20 states. More information on OncoVue is found at www.intergenetics.com.

Beyond Genetics

Researchers estimate that most breast cancer—73 percent—are likely caused by lifestyle and dietary factors and environmental toxins.

For example, birth control—both oral contraceptives and Depo-Provera®—increase the risk of breast cancer. The risk disappears over time once these forms of birth control are stopped.

Using combined estrogen-progestin conventional hormone replacement therapy after menopause increases the risk of getting breast cancer even after using it for as little as two years. Even scarier, it also may increase your chances of dying from breast cancer as well as the likelihood that the cancer may be more advanced when it’s discovered. Within five years of stopping the HRT, a woman’s risk returns to normal.

Conventional HRT uses synthetic hormones. Although bioidentical hormones haven’t been as well studied as the synthetic versions, a review of the medical literature published in 2009 concluded that clinical data indicate that bioidentical progesterone is associated with a diminished risk for breast cancer, compared with the increased risk associated with synthetic progestins.10

Patients also report being more satisfied with bioidentical HRT that contain progesterone compared with those that contain a synthetic progestin.  Estriol, a bioidentical type of estrogen, acts in a different way than the estrogens used in conventional HRT, leading the scientist who reviewed the studies to conclude that it would be expected to carry less risk for breast cancer, although randomized, controlled trials are still needed.11

Environmental Dangers

Even if you’re not on conventional HRT, chances are good you’re being exposed to a toxic cocktail of compounds in the environment that are linked to breast cancer. Some of the worst offenders are bisphenol A (BPA), parabens and phthalates. Depending on the type of chemical, these are found in everything from hand and body lotions to shampoos and canned food. And, in the case of BPA, even in cash register receipts.

Cell culture studies using human cells have shown that parabens can cause breast cancer cells to multiply.12

In another study, postmenopausal women aged 55-70 years provided a blood sample, which researchers analyzed for phthalates, parabens and BPA. The researchers then measured percent breast density—a marker of breast cancer risk—from the women’s mammograms.

The researchers found that postmenopausal women who had high serum levels of BPA and a type of phthalate known as mono-ethyl phthalate had elevated breast density, indicating they were at greater risk of breast cancer.13

This is particularly scary, given that one study found that of 22 tissue samples taken from breast cancer patients, 12 contained a sufficient concentration of one or more parabens to stimulate proliferation of breast cancer cells. This same study found that a combination of parabens could have an even greater stimulatory effect on breast cancer cells.14

Other Risk Factors

Working a night shift or staying up late at night also is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Researchers think this is likely because being exposed to light late at night stops the body from producing melatonin, a hormone that strengthens immunity and is protective against breast cancer.

Drinking alcohol also increases your risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers aren’t completely sure why this is the case.  But it may be because of the harmful effects of acetaldehyde (a substance produced in your body after drinking alcohol), the production of damaging reactive oxygen species that occurs after you drink alcohol, changes in folate metabolism or increased estrogen concentration. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.15

Deficiencies in certain nutrients can also increase your risk of breast cancer. Vitamin D and iodine are two nutrients that are especially important for breast health. Vitamin D has caused cancer cells to die in cell culture studies.16-17

Several studies have found that if you’re living at higher geographical latitudes (which don’t get as much sun), you may have an increased risk of developing and dying of breast and other cancers. Other studies and laboratory tests have consistently found that vitamin D plays an important role in preventing breast cancer.18 Being exposed to sunlight, especially in your earlier life, is linked to having lower breast density and therefore lower risk of breast cancer.19

If you’re not getting enough iodine, it could also put you at a greater risk of breast cancer. In Asia, where people consume a lot of seaweed, which contains iodine, there is a low incidence of breast cancer. Just like the thyroid, your breasts also need a sufficient supply of iodine. In cell culture studies, iodine has killed cancer cells.20 It also has enhanced the effects of an anticancer drug.20

Chances are good you’re not getting enough iodine because we’re constantly exposed to substances in the environment that compete with iodine for absorption in the body. For example, fluoride—found in many water supplies—and bromide—found in some sodas, flame retardants and bread—are two of the most common substances that compete with iodine.

There are many other risk factors for breast cancer including:21

• Having had mastitis (inflammation of the breast tissue).

• Beginning menstruation early in life (before age 12).

• Going through menopause later (after age 55)—possibly due to a longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

• Having had radiation to the chest area as children or young adults as treatment for another cancers, such as Hodgkin’s disease or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The risk of developing breast cancer from chest radiation is highest if the radiation was given during adolescence, when the breasts were still developing.

• Having a mother who was given the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) during the 1940s to 1960s during pregnancy (was thought to reduce the risk of miscarriage).

• Never having given birth or having your first child after age 30.

According to some research, breastfeeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk, especially if breastfeeding is continued for 1½ to two years.21

Recognizing the Symptoms

As you likely know, the most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. If the mass is painless, hard and has irregular edges, there’s a better chance it will be cancerous. But even tender, soft, painful or rounded masses or lumps can be cancerous.

Other possible symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk

You also want to pay careful attention to swollen lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone. This is a sign that the breast cancer has spread and may even be felt before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt. If you have swollen lymph nodes, it’s a good idea to discuss this with your doctor.

A type of rare breast cancer—inflammatory breast cancer—doesn’t have the typical symptom of a lump or mass. This type of breast cancer is an aggressive and lethal type of breast cancer with five-year survival rates of 50 percent, compared to the average comparable rates for patients with non-inflammatory breast cancers of 70 to 80 percent.22

Early Detection

The sooner breast cancer is caught, the better chance of survival. Mammography is the most common way to detect breast cancer. However, some women are concerned about the radiation exposure. Regular mammograms also are not recommended for women under 40, because breast tissue tends to be denser in young women, making mammograms less effective.23 In addition, most experts believe the low risk of developing breast cancer at a young age does not justify the radiation exposure or the cost of mammography.23

In women with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer, mammography has a low sensitivity for detecting tumors, especially in carriers of BRCA mutations. These women often develop the disease at a young age when dense breast tissue reduces the effectiveness of mammography.23

Ultrasound is one alternative. But it has a false negative rate ranging from 0.3 percent to 47 percent.23

Thermography is another option. Thermography uses infrared technology to measure the temperature of your body.

Tumors have a higher temperature than normal tissue. Thermography was first used in 1956, but was abandoned years later because of the poor quality of the thermal images and lower accuracy. However, with the development of new thermal imaging technology, thermography has reappeared and is used as a complementary tool for the diagnosis of breast cancer.24-25

The best part is that thermography—unlike mammography—can show you where you are at risk for breast cancer, and not just where the breast cancer already exists. It is this distinction that has led complementary health physician Bruce Rind, M.D., to liken thermography to the headlights of a car, showing you the path you are traveling, while mammography is more like the rearview mirror, merely reflecting what has already occurred.

A third option is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). It’s thought to be particularly useful in women younger than age 40, whose breast tissue is denser. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends breast MRI screening in addition to mammography for:

  • · BRCA mutation carriers and their first-degree relatives.
  • · Women with a lifetime breast cancer risk 20 to 25 percent.
  • · Women with a history of chest radiation between ages of 10 and 30 years.
  • · Women with genetic risk factors for the disease.26

The HALO test is another way to help determine your risk of breast cancer years earlier than a mammogram. The test can detect abnormalities at the cellular level. The test involves a device that squeezes liquid from your nipples. The liquid is analyzed for cellular abnormalities. For more information, visit http://www.halohc.com/halonaf/NAF-Collection.aspx.

Different Types of Cancer

Doctors and researchers put breast cancer into one of four categories.27 The type of breast cancer will dictate what treatments a doctor will prescribe. Surgical and radiation treatments are similar for each type but chemotherapy and medication treatments are usually different.

“ER Positive” breast cancers account for about 75 percent of all breast cancers. These “estrogen receptive positive” cancers are fueled by the hormone estrogen. About 65 percent of these are also “PR positive,” meaning they are “progesterone receptive positive,” and grow in response to progesterone.

In about 20 to 25 percent of breast cancers, the cancer cells produce an excessive amount of a protein known as HER2/neu. These breast cancers usually are much more aggressive and fast-growing.

Between 10 and 17 percent of breast cancers fall under the category of “triple negative” because they lack estrogen and progesterone receptors and do not overexpress the HER2 protein. Most breast cancers associated with BRCA1 are triple negative.

There’s also another type of breast cancer called Paget’s disease. Approximately one to four percent of all cases of breast cancer also involve Paget’s disease of the breast. A rare type of cancer, Paget’s disease involves the skin of the nipple and, often, the areola, the darker circle of skin around the nipple.

Natural Strategies

There are many natural strategies to help reduce your risk of breast cancer.

  • Avoid eating sugar and refined carbs, since cancer cells feed on sugar.
  • Keep your body alkaline. If you have breast cancer, this can be achieved by consuming baking soda.
  • Using hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
  • Getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week.
  • Going to bed by 11 p.m. and sleeping in a dark room.

Eating a healthy diet also is important. Vegetable consumption is associated with a lower risk of estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) breast cancer.28 So load up on broccoli, spinach, asparagus and all your favorite vegetables.

A series of studies known as the DIANA studies also have shown that eating a Mediterranean-style diet and moderate physical activity reduces the risk of breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence.29

Nutritional Supplements

If you want to reduce your risk of breast cancer, you’ll want to arm yourself with some key nutritional supplements. As mentioned earlier, it’s crucial to be certain you’re getting enough vitamin D and iodine. You’ll want to make certain your doctor tests your vitamin D levels.

Medicinal mushrooms also have anticancer properties. In a cell culture and animal study, reishi mushrooms suppressed tumor growth in inflammatory breast cancer.30 In a number of cell culture studies, Reishi mushrooms caused breast cancer cells to die and has stopped the spread of the cancer.31-34

Maitake is another medicinal mushroom that also goes to bat against breast cancer. In particular, maitake D fraction is known for its ability to weaken tumor cells.35

In mice, maitake D-fraction has antitumor effects by enhancing the immune system through activation of macrophages, T cells and natural killer (NK) cells. In humans, maitake has similar effects. Researchers administered maitake D-fraction to cancer patients who weren’t taking anticancer drugs. The researchers also monitored NK cell activity. Maitake D-fraction hindered the spread of the cancer, lessened the expression of tumor markers and increased NK cell activity in all patients examined.36

Alpha lipoic acid is another antitumor powerhouse. A powerful antioxidant, it stops tumor cells in their tracks both in cell culture and animal studies.37-40

Finally, I3C or DIM can help balance estrogen levels in the body. The body metabolizes estrogen in one of two ways: the good pathway and the bad, cancer-promoting pathway. I3C and DIM, found in cruciferous vegetables, helps estrogen leave the body through the good pathway, reducing the risk of cancer.

Reducing Your Risk

Breast cancer is a scary opponent that will strike one in eight women. You can reduce your risk of developing the disease by exercising, reducing your intake of sugar and refined carbs, going to bed by 11 p.m. in a dark room, and making sure you’re getting enough vitamin D, iodine, medicinal mushrooms, alpha lipoic acid and I3C or DIM.

 

References:

1. Centers for disease control and prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/data/women.htm.

2. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsfigures/breastcancerfactsfigures/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures-2011-2012.

3. Cadiz F, et al. J Cancer. 2013 Jul 1;4(5):433-46.

4. Lichtenstein P, et al. N Engl J Med. 2000;343(2):78–85

5. Kobayashi H, et al. Oncol Rep. 2013 Jun 19. [Epub ahead of print.]

6. Evans DG, et al. Eur J Cancer. 1996;32A(3):391–2.

7. Althuis MD, et al. Int J Epidemiol. 2005;34:405–12.

8. Parkin DM, et al. CA Cancer J Clin. 2005;55:74–108.

9. Tryggvadottir L, et al. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2006;98:116–22.

10. Evans DG, et al. BMC Cancer. 2008;8:155.

11. Holtorf K. Postgrad Med. 2009 Jan;121(1):73-85.

12. Wrobel A and Gregoraszczuk EL. Pharmacol Rep. 2013;65(2):484-93.

13. Sprague BL, et al. Breast Cancer Res. 2013 May 27;15(3):R45. [Epub ahead of print.]

14. Charles AK and Darbre PD. J Appl Toxicol. 2013 May;33(5):390-8.

15. Nelson, DE, et al. Am J Public Health. 2013 April; 103(4): 641-8.

16. Weitsman GE, et al. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003 Dec;1010:437-40.

17. Weitsman GE, et al. Int J Cancer. 2003 Aug 20;106(2):178-86.

18. Walentowicz-Sadlecka M, et al. Ginekol Pol. 2013 Apr;84(4):305-8.

19. Wu SH, et al. J Breast Cancer. 2013 Jun;16(2):171-7.

20. Alfaro Y, et al. Mol Cancer. 2013 May 24;12:45. doi: 10.1186/1476-4598-12-45.

21. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-risk-factors.

22. Robertson FM, et al. Cancer J Clin. 2010;60:351–75.

23. Salem DS, et al. J Thorac Dis. 2013 June;5(Suppl 1):S9–S18.

24. Nicandro CR, et al. Comput Math Methods Med. 2013;2013:264246.

25. Zore Z, et al. Acta Clin Croat. 2013 Mar;52(1):35-42.

26. Salen DS, et al. J Thorac Dis. 2013 Jun;5(Suppl 1):S9-S18.

27. http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-types-er-positive-her2-positive.

28. Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2013, January 24). http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2013/01/130124163336.htm.

29. Villarini A, et al. Tumori. 2012 Jan-Feb;98(1):1-18.

30. Suarez-Arroyo IJ, et al. PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e57431.

31. Wu G, et al. Am J Chin Med. 2012;40(3):631-42.

32. Jiang J, et al. Int J Oncol. 2006 Sep;29(3):695-703.

33. Sliva D. Integr Cancer Ther. 2003 Dec;2(4):358-64.

34. Sliva D, et al. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2002 Nov 8;298(4):603-12.

35. Soares R, et al. J Med Food. 2011 Jun;14(6):563-72.

36. Kodama N, et al. J Med Food. 2003 Winter;6(4):371-7.

37. Feuerecker B, et al. Cancer Biol Ther. 2012 Dec 1;13(14):1425-35.

38. Lee HS, et al. Nutr Res. 2010 Jun;30(6):403-9.

39. Dozio E, et al. Eur J Pharmacol. 2010 Sep 1;641(1):29-34.

40. Na MH, et al. Nutr Res Pract. 2009 Winter;3(4):265-71.

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