October is breast cancer awareness month and is a great time to review the new research, which brings promising new breast cancer advancements in the fight against this devastating disease.
My best friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer – yet again. Since breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death and the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, I am painfully aware my dear friend is far from alone. Standing by her side as she once again bravely fights this battle for her life has led me to research and gain new insights into what causes this horrible disease and where the keys to prevention lie.
Breast Cancer Advancement #1: It’s Your Environment, Not Your Genes That Determines Your Risk
In 1994, scientists discovered the BRCA1 gene and thought they had finally cracked the code on what causes breast cancer. But, subsequent studies showed that even though this gene may increase your risk of breast cancer, it isn’t the primary cause. Twin studies in Scandinavia showed that inherited genetics accounted for only 27 percent of breast cancer risk.
Then a study was done on Japanese descendants who migrated to the United States. Within one or two generations, these women’s rates of breast cancer increased to match the higher breast cancer rates of women in the US. These two studies together (and others like them) brought the truth to light – your environmental exposures play the most significant role in your breast cancer risk. Or, as genetic researchers like to say – genes may load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.
There are many types of breast cancer, some hormone-sensitive and some not, and while they are different in their presentations, all of them share one thing in common – environmental triggers. These exposures can start as early as during development in the womb or as late as just before diagnosis, and are the hot topic for research right now. Environmental causes of breast cancer include:
- Urban air pollution
- Pesticides like DDT and glyphosate (RoundUp)
- Plastics like PCBs and BPA (NEVER microwave in plastic bags or containers!)
- X-ray and gamma radiation
- DES (a synthetic estrogen used to prevent miscarriages)
- Ethylene oxide (a sterilizing chemical)
- Smoking cigarettes
- Drinking alcohol
- Flame retardants in clothing, furniture, carpeting, and more
- Chemical solvents and dyes
- Mercury in seafood and dental amalgams
- Food additives
- Industrial chemicals used to make rubber
- Vinyl and polyurethane foams
- Byproducts and exhaust from burning fuels
- Too much artificial light at night
- Diet high in saturated and trans fats
- Triclosan in antimicrobial soaps and hand sanitizers
- Chemicals in sunscreens
- And so many more…
The diversity of breast cancer is challenging for researchers, because just as there are many different environmental causes, there are several types of breast cancer, some sensitive to certain hormones and some are not.
Breast Cancer Advancement #2: Hormone Replacement Therapy May Actually Reduce Risk
If you have modified your diet, take all the recommended supplements, and follow all the lifestyle recommendations I’ve outlined in Before the Change and still suffer with hormone imbalance, the good news is you can choose individualized bioidentical hormone replacement therapy to balance your hormones safely – and it doesn’t need to be discontinued after age 65.
Until 2017, we didn’t hear the whole truth on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Leaders like Holly Thacker, MD, who is a nationally known expert in womens health, criticized the unscientific interpretations of the Womens Health Initiative (WHI) and the conclusion that HRT is unsafe – from the time these conclusions were made. Unfortunately, her objections and those of her colleagues were initially blocked from publication 15 years ago. Thankfully, the tide has turned and the anti-hormone conclusions have recently been debunked.
Based on the input from Dr. Thacker and her colleagues, the North American Menopause Society reversed their decision and made a new statement about HRT in 2017. The scientific research shows they do not cause early death or increase cancer risk when used properly. They have determined that as with any hormone, whether it be thyroid, insulin, or sex hormones, hormones like HRT should be dosed based on the woman’s age, sex, stage in life, medical history, symptoms, test results, and her individual concerns. This means the dose is individualized, which is an important distinction to make when it comes to prescribing hormones, and one that was not accounted in the unscientific analysis of the WHI.
They even found balancing a woman’s hormones through HRT reduces her risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, and Type 2 Diabetes. In addition, family or personal history of breast cancer does not mean you can’t use HRT – though I would strongly suggest consulting a very knowledgeable health care professional before going this route. I also advocate using only bioidentical hormone replacement when it’s needed, and not the synthetic forms.
While all of this is promising, there is no magic pill – you need a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet and regular detox to keep your hormones balanced, even if you decide to use bioidentical replacements.
Breast Cancer Advancement #3: Eat Right for Your Hormones
It’s no secret obesity is a cancer risk. Your adipose tissue (aka fat cells) makes estrogen – it’s one way your body compensates as your ovaries start making less during perimenopause and menopause. This estrogen is metabolically active and when you have a lot of adipose tissue, you make a lot of estrogen and become estrogen dominant.
Estrogen dominance is a strong risk factor for breast cancer, as my good friend can attest. Her weight had crept up once again before the cancer returned. As you lose weight, your hormones come back into a better balance and your breast cancer risk decreases. And if you choose an anti-inflammatory diet to lose weight, recent studies show your risk of deadly postmenopausal breast cancer dramatically drops.
Over 60,000 postmenopausal women in the Netherlands were studied for more than 20 years for diet and other lifestyle factors. They looked specifically at the diets of over 2300 women who developed breast cancer, and found that postmenopausal estrogen receptor negative breast cancer was 40% lower when the following diet factors were present:
- Rich in vegetables and fruits of all types
- Includes whole grains
- Fats balanced and primarily from nuts, seeds, and their oils
- Regularly eats fish
- No processed meats (sausage, hot dogs, pepperoni, lunch meats, etc.) and very little red meat
- No legumes (beans, peas, etc.)
- No alcohol (includes red wine)
Spoiler alert: My new Radical Metabolism plan has all of these dietary components and more, to help you bring your health and your hormones back into optimal balance!
When you build healthy cells, they send the signals for balancing hormones of all types, from insulin to thyroid and sex hormones. If you are overweight and your energy is low, you very likely have a toxic metabolism and DNA damage to your cells. You need an anti-inflammatory approach to weight loss, hormone balancing, and detox, and it needs to start at the cellular level.
I know this all sounds like a daunting task, to get everything in your body back in balance when you feel fat and fatigued and your hormones are out-of-whack. This is why I created my new Radical Metabolism plan. It’s more than an anti-inflammatory, weight loss diet. It’s more than a seasonal and daily detox. It’s a lifestyle that takes you step-by-step through repairing your cells, reversing the DNA damage, detoxing your overworked organs, and creating an ideal environment – both in your body and in your home – to stay healthy and minimize your risk of all chronic diseases, including breast cancer.
I invite you to join the Radical Metabolism Revolution Facebook community and let me guide you on the path to better health. Grab your Radical Metabolism book HERE. Can’t wait to see you inside the group!
Interesting information about the HRT. I always learn so much from your blogs.
Since my mother had breast cancer it is a relief to know that I am not destined to have it. I can protect myself by cleaning up my environment, keeping my hormones balanced and eating well.
Yes! Go Linda!!
Dear Ann Louise,
Thank you for covering this critical topic.
For those of us who do not have a weight problem, would Radical Metabolism still be applicable?
Welcome your thoughts on mammograms versus thermography.
Thanks so much.
(Would love to see a blog covering prostate health, PSA, etc. for all the men out there seeking wisdom
If you are looking for a lifestyle that helps you build health from the cellular level on up, while detoxing your body and your home, then I highly encourage you to try Radical Metabolism! Comments in my Radical Metabolism Facebook group have even mentioned how helpful this lifestyle would be even when someone doesn’t need to lose weight, so I think you’re on the right track!
The article states, “and one that was not accounted in the unscientific analysis of the WHI”. I beg to differ: it WAS scientific BUT poorly or narrowly discussed/analyzed. I think it is important to note that they did not make much of the fact that results were based on the use of equine estrogen (along with the many estrogens that don’t belong in the human body) and progestin (which is synthetic…and was the cause if a lot). They DID cause negative results in a group of people with health profiles putting them at risk for cardiovascular events and cancer (which was not transparent enough nor focused on enough in discussion) . NAMS went on to extrapolate that the results applied to all women and clinically encouraged all types of HRT to be assumed to risk the same.
I think this is VERY important because it leads one to realize the industry conflicts and, possibly, industry influence. It’s a reality that showcases a problem in healthcare but especially woman’s health. A lot of women suffered due to the incorrect published analysis and subsequent recommendations. IMO, it’s important info that should not be swept under the rug.
Just my little bit of activism. I love your blog!
Thank you, C! Dr. Thacker’s position is about individualizing types and amounts to each woman’s individual needs. Her stance is that balancing a woman’s hormones reduces her risk of breast cancer, and her research supports her conclusions. She does not get into the debate over synthetic vs, bioidentical, but as you know from this post and my book Before the Change, I am strongly in favor of bioidentical HRT when needed while implementing diet, nutritional supplements, and lifestyle changes.
Thank you for your activism!
Heartfelt thanks dear Ann Louise for ALWAYS being such a guiding light inspiring and empowering us to live our healthiest lives….I, too, would SO much appreciate your thoughts on mammograms versus thermography . I will pray for your best friend. She could have no better loving Earth Angel than you.
I don’t have a quick answer on the mammogram vs. thermogram debate, except to say that I don’t like the false positive rate on a mammogram, and I don’t like the variation in quality in thermography. For example, a woman goes for a routine screening mammogram (getting targeted radiation to a sensitive tissue in the body) and is told there a spot, mass, or lump. Her body then changes from the stress response alone! Then, after invasive and painful testing, she’s told “good news! There’s no cancer!” This is an example of a false positive, and happens far too often, in my opinion. A good screening tool should be more accurate than this and come with less radiation, in an ideal world. Thermography is still a bit of a wild card, from my perspective. If you have a reputable center you know has a high resolution, then it’s my preference over mammography, personally. You go for a baseline thermogram then go back a few months later, then yearly. But, thermography doesn’t have any oversight at this point, and anyone can purchase the equipment, which can vary greatly in quality, and call themselves a thermographer. This concerns me, and is the reason I don’t give a blanket recommendation for thermography.
Why would legumes – peas, beans, etc – be a problem for women with estrogen receptor negative breast cancer? Your review of the Netherlands Study of 60,000 post menopausal women seems to indicate that it is. That is the opposite of what other integrative health sources have said, since legumes are a good source of healthy fiber. I read that certain legumes – some types of beans – may be a source of phytoestrogens, but soy products are even stronger phytoestrogens and those aren’t mentioned as problematic. Please explain further and give us the reference information on the study. Thank you.
I would like to know too. Why not legumes? In moderation of course.
In the section “Eat Right for Your Hormones” the word “studies” is highlighted in blue. This links to the study published in the International Journal of Cancer. Table 4 shows the negative relationship between eating beans and breast cancer. The table can be a bit confusing if you don’t routinely read research, so I’d like to break it down for you. They are reporting the opposite of what you’d think, so if you look the diet factors they’re using are things like “excluding vegetables” and report the breast cancer risk as a positive number which means this dietary factor of excluding vegetables increases your breast cancer risk. When you look at things like “excluding legumes” the number is reported as a negative, which means it decreases your breast cancer risk to exclude legumes. A study of this magnitude can’t go into the “why” behind the results, so it doesn’t take phytoestrogens or proper preparation to break down lectins into account. I hope this helps!
Just got my copy of ‘Radical Metabolism’. I am very excited about reading it. I love that your article stated that HRT may actually REDUCE risk. I agree with this as Ive been studying it in depth as well. Its a real shock when I explain this to some women! I am going to share this article far and wide!