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It’s October, and that means Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Unfortunately, most of the conversations are focused on how to detect breast cancer — get your mammograms — and on donating money to research new breast cancer drugs. But honestly, with 1 in 8 women getting breast cancer in their life time, what about prevention? Can we make changes to our lives to lower our risk of cancer before it starts?
Yes, we can.
There are no guarantees. You can do everything right and still get breast cancer. But if you follow the research and choose things that reduce your risk, then you will be less likely to get breast cancer. That’s something we should all be able to get behind.
If you are dealing with breast cancer, there are some things on this list that may help you beat it. I suggest taking these studies to your doctor to discuss the possibility of including some of them in your treatment plan. This article is not medical advice and is not a substitute for a doctor’s care.
Foods to Prevent Breast Cancer Naturally
There are several foods that may play a role in preventing breast cancer, and it’s a good idea to include some (or all!) in your diet.
Wakame is a form of seaweed. One study shows that it may help to suppress cancer cells.
Turmeric is a spice — a root — which is common in Indian cooking. There is a large body of evidence that turmeric may play a role in preventing cancer, or even, possibly, a role in getting rid of it (2, 3, 4).
This is a compound found in several foods — raspberries, blackberries (and both of their leaves, used as herbal teas or tinctures), nuts, grapes, strawberries, green tea, and pomegranates. This acid is known to help prevent cancer (and may play a role in stopping it in early stages) (7, 8).
The compound sulforaphane may help to prevent breast cancer (9).
While we want to eat a healthy, balanced diet and include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and select herbs to help prevent cancer, there are specific vitamins and minerals that many people are deficient in, which could increase the risk of cancer. Making sure that you are getting enough of these critical vitamins and minerals can reduce your cancer risk.
Having adequate levels of vitamin D may help to prevent breast cancer (10, 11). It may also help to reduce deaths in those who already have breast cancer (12). Cod liver oil may be useful for this purpose (13). A high level of omega-3 fatty acids may play a protective role as well (14, 15).
Other Lifestyle Factors
Women who breastfed for 2 years or more per child, and especially those women who breastfed for more than 9 years in their life time, had significantly lower risk of breast cancer than women who breastfed less (16).
The reason that breastfeeding matters (pregnancy does too — getting pregnant younger or being pregnant more) is because estrogen is associated with breast cancer, and pregnancy and breastfeeding lower estrogen levels. The less estrogen you are exposed to in your life time, the lower your risk of breast cancer.
This is, of course, not a reason to have more babies if you don’t want them, or to have children younger than when you are ready. Making sure that your hormones are balanced, though, so that you are not estrogen dominant. Talk to your doctor or an alternative practitioner if you have any signs of estrogen dominance (including infertility, heavy or irregular periods, and more).
The aluminum in antiperspirant may be linked to breast cancer. Of course, it’s also linked to a number of other serious conditions, so avoiding exposure is probably the best route (17).
Depending on who you ask, bras may or may not be a risk factor for breast cancer. The reason is because very tight bras can restrict the flow of lymph (a fluid that helps move waste out of the body), which can lead to the waste products getting caught — near your breasts. Some theorize this may increase the development of breast cancer. Choosing a softer bra, a non-underwire style, or wearing your bra less often (never at night, and not while at home if possible) could reduce your risk.
Can We Really Prevent Breast Cancer?
But we can do a lot to reduce risk. Even if you have a family history of breast cancer, you are not “doomed” to get it. There is a new field of study called epigenetics, which looks at gene expression. That is, you may carry the gene for breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean it will actually be “expressed” (i.e. that you will get cancer). The choices that you make can determine whether or not you develop breast cancer, to some extent. We don’t know a lot yet about this area.
I like to remain hopeful, though. I believe a lot of the choices we make can reduce our risk of cancer. Nothing can ever completely eliminate risk. But our choices do matter.
Consuming a healthy diet that is free of pesticides (from certain types of conventional produce), GMOs, antibiotics and artificial hormones (conventionally raised meats) will help to reduce cancer risk. Reducing stress may reduce the risk of cancer, too (high stress levels can throw the adrenals and hormone balance really out of whack).
And of course, not smoking and getting moderate exercise may reduce your risk of cancer as well.
Try to be as healthy as you can. Don’t worry about the rest.
- 1: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11376555
- 2: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3706856/
- 3: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24371229
- 4: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/cancer-questions/can-turmeric-prevent-bowel-cancer
- 5: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24364759
- 6: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862148/
- 7: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4069806/
- 8: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23065001
- 9: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20388854
- 10: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22234628
- 11: http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/16/3/422.full.pdf+html
- 12: http://ar.iiarjournals.org/content/34/3/1163.full
- 13: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2258476/
- 14: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3987049/
- 15: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25220417