Breast cancer prevention – Fifteen Natural Ways to Prevent Breast Cancer

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Eat more beans

Soy foods have grabbed the headlines, but “phytoestrogens also abound in most other beans,” says botanist James Duke, Ph.D., author of The Green Pharmacy. Dr. Duke recommends enjoying a bean soup, or bean salad, or low-fat Mexican fare with pinto or black beans a few times a week. [22] 

Cut down on — or cut out — alcohol

no alcohol

Many studies show that as alcohol consumption increases, so does the risk of breast cancer. [23] Most recently, in a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Harvard researchers analyzed six long-term studies of alcohol and breast cancer risk involving more than 322,000 women. As the women’s alcohol consumption increased, so did their breast cancer risk. One drink a day raised risk only slightly (9%), but two to five drinks a day raised it 41%. [24] Alcohol raises blood levels of estrogen. [25] 

Watch your weight

Every pound you gain after age 18 increases your risk of breast cancer, according to a recent analysis by Harvard researchers of data from the Nurse’s Health Study, an ongoing study tracking the diet, lifestyle, and health of more than 95,000 female nurses. Compared with nurses who gained only five pounds since age 18, those who were 45 pounds heavier had twice the breast cancer risk. As body fat increases, so do blood levels of estrogen, the hormone that promotes breast tumor growth. [26]

Steer clear of xenoestrogens

Xeno” means “foreign,” that is, from outside the body. Women ingest xenoestrogens from primarily two sources: the residues in meats of estrogenic hormones given to food animals, and the residues of estrogenic pesticides on produce. The role of xenoestrogens in breast cancer risk remains controversial, but mounting evidence suggests that xenoestrogens may increase blood estrogen levels enough to up the risk of developing breast cancer. Most recently, Danish researchers tested pesticide levels in the blood of 240 women with breast cancer and 477 women who were cancer-free. As blood levels of the xenoestrogenic pesticide dieldrin increased, so did the women’s breast cancer risk. [27] Dieldrin is banned in the United States, but other xenoestrogenic pesticides used here have also been linked to an increased breast cancer risk. [28] 

The best ways to avoid xenoestrogens are to limit the consumption of meat, poultry, and whole-milk dairy foods, or shop for organic, hormone-free meats and dairy, and organic produce. But don’t let fear of pesticide residues deter you from eating lots of fruits and vegetables, adds Dr. Block of U.C. Berkeley. The benefits of their antioxidants and fiber outweigh any risk from pesticide residues.

Get some sun

Rising rates of malignant melanoma skin cancer threaten to turn us into a nation of sun-phones. But a little sun can help prevent breast cancer. Studies by epidemiologists Cedric and Frank Garland of the University of California at San Diego show that compared with women who live in northern latitudes, those who live in sunnier southern climes have a lower risk of breast cancer. When sunlight strikes the skin, the Garlands explain, the body makes vitamin D. This vitamin helps breast tissue absorb calcium, which in turn, reduces breast-cancer risk. The Garland brothers advise getting about 20 minutes of sun a day (just don’t get sunburned). A good way to do this is to take a walk at lunch or in the late afternoon. [29] If you are concerned about not getting enough calcium or vitamin D from food or sunlight, you may want to try supplements. The Daily Value (DV) for vitamin D is 400 international units. The DV for calcium is 1,000 milligrams.

Don’t smoke

Don't smoke

As if you need another reason not to smoke, a study by Christine Ambrosone at the University of Buffalo shows that smoking increases breast cancer risk, with the greatest increase in women who started smoking as teens and those who smoke more than a pack a day. [30]

Breastfeed your babies

For reasons that remain unclear, breastfeeding is associated with a modest reduction in developing breast cancer before menopause. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the greater the benefit. [31]

Think twice before taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

There are several good reasons to take HRT after menopause: lower risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. But HRT increases breast cancer risk. Talk with your doctor, and weigh your individual risks of all these conditions as you become menopausal. Most women are at higher risk for heart disease than they are for breast cancer. [32]

Finally, one more pointer to possibly trim your risk:

prevent breast cancer

The medical literature hints that stress might increase breast cancer risk. Stress depresses immune function, so a biological case can be made for stress increasing risk of just about every disease. [33] But the research on the alleged stress-breast cancer link is very controversial, and the studies showing an association are currently scant and outweighed by studies to the contrary. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to incorporate a stress management regimen into your life — meditation, yoga, tai chi, gardening, or other relaxing activities. 

Bottom line advice: Don’t get stressed-out about your breast cancer risk. Do something about it.

Sources

Sources

1 “Results of Tamoxifen Study,” NCI press release, 4-6-98. Altman, L.K. “Researchers Find First Drug Known to Prevent Breast Cancer,” The New York Times 4-7-98. Pear, R. “Preventive Use of Tamoxifen is Allowed,” The New York Times 10-30-98.

2 “Elevated Serum Estradiol and Testosterone Concentration Are Associated with a High Risk of Breast Cancer,” Annals of Internal Medicine (1999) 130:270.

3 “Efficacy of Prophylactic Mastectomy Suggested by Retrospective Study,” Primary Care & Cancer10-97.

4 Thune, I., et al. “Physical Activity and the Risk of Breast Cancer,” New England Journal of Medicine (1997) 336:1269. “Diet, Exercise May Avert Breast Cancer in Some,” Family Practice News 6-15-98. “Exercise May Reduce Risk of Breast Cancer,” Medical Tribune 5-22-97. Kolata, G. “Study Bolsters Idea that Exercise Cuts Breast Cancer Risk,” The New York Times 5-1-97. Bernstein, L., et al. “Physical Exercise and Reduced Risk of Breast Cancer in Young Women,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1994) 86:1403. 

5 Wu, A.H., et al. “Meta-Analysis: Dietary Fat, Serum Estrogen Levels, and the Risk of Breast Cancer,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1999) 91:529.

6 Hunter, D.J., et al. “Cohort Studies of Fat Intake and Risk of Breast Cancer: A Pooled Analysis,” New England Journal of Medicine (1996) 334:356. 

7 Lee, H.P., et al. “Dietary Effects on Breast Cancer in Singapore,” Lancet (1991) 337(8751):1197.

8 Kohlmeier, L., et al. “Adipose Tissue Trans-Fatty Acids and Breast Cancer in the European Community Multicenter Study on Antioxidants, Myocardial Infarction, and Breast Cancer,” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention (1997) 6:705. “Trans-Fatty Acids Tied to Risk of Breast Cancer,” The New York Times 10-14-97.

9 Wolk, et al. “A Prospective Study of Association of Monounsaturated Fat and Other Fats with Risk of Breast Cancer,” Archives of Internal Medicine (1998) 158:41. Trichopoulo, A., et al. “Consumption of Olive Oil and Specific Food Groups in Relation to Breast Cancer Risk in Greece,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1995) 87:110. For background: “New Evidence on the Benefits of Olive Oil,” The New York Times 1-18-95.

10 “Preventing Breast Cancer,” Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing newsletter. 6-98.

11 Hebert, J.R., et al. “The Effect of Dietary Exposures on Recurrence and Mortality in Early-Stage Breast Cancer,” Breast Cancer Research and Treatment (1998) 51:17. Djuric, Z., et al. “Oxidative DNA Damage Levels in Blood from Women at High Risk for Breast Cancer Are Associated with Dietary Intakes of Meats, Vegetables, and Fruits,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association(1998) 98:524. DeStefani, E., et al. “Meat Intake, Heterocyclic Amines, and Risk of Breast Cancer: A Case-Control Study in Uruguay,” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention (1997) 6:573. Prieto-Ramos, F., et al. “Mortality Trends and Past and Current Dietary Factors of Breast Cancer in Spain,” European Journal of Epidemiology (1996) 12:141.

12 Hebert, J.R., et al. “The Effect of Dietary Exposures on Recurrence and Mortality in Early-Stage Breast Cancer,” Breast Cancer Research and Treatment (1998) 51:17.

13 Trichopoulo, A.. et al. “Consumption of Olive Oil and Specific Food Groups in Relation to Breast Cancer Risk in Greece,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1995) 87:110.

14 Zheng, W., et al. “Well-Done Meat Intake and the Risk of Breast Cancer,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1998) 90:1724. 

15 Block, G., et al. “Fruit, Vegetables, and Cancer Prevention: A Review of the Epidemiological Evidence,” Nutrition and Cancer (1992) 18:1.

16 “Preventing Breast Cancer,” Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing newsletter. 6-98. 

17 Rose, D.P., et al. “High-Fiber Diet Reduces Serum Estrogen Concentrations in Premenopausal Women,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1991) 54:520.

18 Author survey.

19 Lee, H.P., et al. “Dietary Effects on Breast Cancer in Singapore,” Lancet (1991) 337(8751):1197.

20 Ingram, D. “Case-Control Study of Phytoestrogens and Breast Cancer,” Lancet (1997) 350:990.

21 “Soy Products, Ginseng, May Lower Breast Cancer Risk,” Medical Tribune 11-27-97. “Plant Estrogens May Ward off Breast Cancer,” Science News 10-11-97. “The Phytoestrogen Question,” HealthNews 11-18-97. “Soybeans Show Promise in Cancer Prevention,” Primary Care and Cancer3-95. “Soy Diet May Protect Against Breast Cancer,” Medical Tribune 10-6-94.

22 Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1997, p. 16.

23 “Alcohol Use Reportedly Increases Breast Cancer Risk,” Medical Tribune 5-22-97. “Even Modest Alcohol Intake Raises Risk of Breast Tumors,” Medical Tribune 7-13-95.

24 Smith-Warner, S.A., et al. “Alcohol and Breast Cancer in Women,” Journal of the American Medical Association (1998) 279:535.

25 Ginsburg, E.S., et al. “Effects of Alcohol Ingestion on Estrogens in Postmenopausal Women,” Journal of the American Medical Association (1996) 276:1747. “Preventing Breast Cancer,” Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing Newsletter. 6-98.

26 Huang, Z., et al. “Dual Effects of Weight and Weight Gain on Breast Cancer Risk,” Journal of the American Medical Association (1997) 278:1407. “Study Finds Big Weight Gain Raises Risk of Breast Cancer,” The New York Times 11-5-97. “Avoiding Adult Weight Gain May Reduce Breast Cancer Risk,” Medical Tribune 12-18-97.

27 “Exposure to Certain Insecticide Increases Breast Cancer Risk,” Medical Tribune 1-7-99. “Pesticides and Breast Cancer,” Science News 1-23-99. Hoyer, A.P., et al. “Organochlorine Exposure and Risk of Breast Cancer,” Lancet (1998) 352:1816.

28 Wolf, M., et al. “Blood Levels of Organochlorine Residues and Risk of Beast Cancer,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1993) 85:648. Falck, F., et al. “Pesticides and Polychlorinated Biphenyl Residues in Human Breast Lipids and Their Relation to Breast Cancer,” Archives of Environmental Health (1992) 47:143. Arnold, S.F., et al. “Synergistic Activation of Estrogen Receptor with Combinations of Environmental Chemicals,” Science (1996) 272:1489. “Environmental Estrogenic Agents Area of Concern,” Journal of the American Medical Association(1994) 271:414. “Preventing Breast Cancer,” Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing newsletter. 6-98.

29 Garland, F., et al. “Geographic Variation in Breast Cancer Mortality in the U.S.: A Hypothesis Involving Exposure to Solar Radiation,” Preventive Medicine (1990) 19:614. “Can Sunshine Save Your Life?” Newsweek 12-30-91. “Breast Cancer Risk Appears to Be Affected by Sun Exposure,” Primary Care & Cancer 7-98.

30 Brody, J. “Personal Health,” The New York Times 5-17-95.

31 Newcomb, P.A., et al. “Lactation and a Reduced Risk of Premenopausal Breast Cancer,” New England Journal of Medicine (1994) 330:81. UK National Case-Control Study Group. “Breast Feeding and the Risk of Breast Cancer in Young Women,” British Medical Journal (1993) 307:17. “Nursing and Breast Cancer,” The New York Times 5-31-95. 

32 “HRT Linked to Breast Cancer, Data Confirm,” Medical Tribune 7-16-98. Warren, M.P. and J. Kulak. “Benefits and Drawbacks of Hormone Replacement Therapy,” Women’s Health in Primary Care 1-99. D’Epiro, N.W. “HRT: New Data, Continuing Controversies,” Patient Care 12-15-98. Brody, J. “Personal Health,” The New York Times 8-20-97.

33 Glaser, R., et al. “Stress-Induced Immunomodulation,” Journal of the American Medical Association (1999) 281:2268. 

Michael Richardson

Michael Richardson

I am a nutritionist and healthcare practitioner with over 10 years of experience. I am a medical article writer, blog writer. My passion is to help people. My favorite quote is:  “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates

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