Originally published in Boomers & Beyond, December 1, 2012
Women, here are 5 numbers you should know about breast cancer:
- 232,340: The number of women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year (2013)
- 39,620: The number of women who will die from breast cancer this year (2013)
- 34: The percentage of women who will get breast cancer prior to their first mammogram
- 12.3: The percentage of women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some during their lives
- 5–10: The percentage of breast cancer cases caused by hereditary genetic factors, with the remaining cases caused by genetic mutations during a woman’s life.
Granted, each of these numbers reflects estimates based on actual data, but they tell a frightening story: breast cancer is a threat to far too many women. Despite the millions upon millions of dollars for breast cancer research, detection, and treatment, breast cancer continues to hurt too many women.
Why Does Breast Cancer Occur?
Your Genes: Ultimately, the cause of breast cancer, and all cancer, is a genetic mutation or damage in which cells don’t die as they should but instead divide (i.e., reproduce) at an accelerated rate. The question is why this occurs.
Before continuing, I’ll make a point about that final number above. Many women tell me they have to watch out for breast cancer because it “runs in the family.” This may or may not be true. Only 5% –10% of breast cancer cases result from inherited genetic mutations. The rest are caused by cellular (i.e., genes) damage during a woman’s life.
On the other hand, around 55%–65% of women who receive BRCA genetic mutations may get breast cancer. Thus, when women ask whether they are at risk because their mothers or grandmothers had breast cancer, I respond yes, but more importantly, they are at risk because they are women. The American Cancer Society states, “…most (over 85%) women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of this disease.”
Common Causes: Breast cancer can result from many conditions other than hereditary factors, but several are fairly well recognized, including estrogen dominance, a poorly functioning lymph system, chest radiation, and chronic inflammation.
Estrogen: Estrogen is solidly linked to increased risk for breast cancer, and many of the risk factors for breast cancer stem from excessive or long-term exposure to estrogen, including early onset of menses, late menopause, obesity, lack of child bearing, use of birth control, hormone replacement therapy after menopause, etc. “Estrogen promotes the growth of cancers that are hormone receptor-positive” (American Cancer Society), and about two-thirds of breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive. This means about two-thirds of breast cancer cases may be caused by estrogen.
Lymph System Malfunction: The lymph system is responsible for removing toxins and wastes within the body (but outside the digestive system). It captures damaged (cancer) cells and kills them in the lymph nodes. When the lymph system is in distress, such as from blockages or swelling, it cannot perform this vital function, which may increase the risk for cancer. You have mutated cells in your body; it’s natural, but your body generally filters those cells through the lymph system. Lymph nodes may become inflamed or swollen, preventing the system from destroying cancer cells and expelling wastes efficiently.
Radiation: Chest radiation significantly increases the risk for breast cancer, especially among younger women. This may be a particular issue for women who have mammograms because mammograms use x-rays to detect masses in the breasts. Granted, the ACS notes that radiation doses are low. The problem is that the effects are cumulative, meaning any damage from radiation doesn’t go away before the next mammogram. Instead, any new effects from radiation are added to prior effects.
Inflammation: Chronic inflammation in breast tissue causes gene mutations and cell damage. Inflammation releases cytokines, which damage cells in nearby tissue. As Korkaya, Liu, and Wicha stated in their 2010 study, “Considerable clinical evidence exists for links between inflammatory states and cancer development.”
The Bad News
Women who rely on mammograms to detect breast cancer and monitor their breast health will not be able to identify these risk factors.
Mammograms use x-rays to find dense tissue within a portion of the breast, which may or may not be a tumor. That is what they do. Using a mammogram to find pre-cancer conditions is like using a camera to measure sound volume. Mammograms are, simply, the wrong technology to detect these conditions.
Although mammograms may have some success finding tumors once they exist, they are not effective before tumors occur. As the Centers for Disease Control notes, “Doctors use mammograms to look for early signs of breast cancer.” They look for cancer, not conditions that lead to cancer.
Yes, many women have had their lives saved because a mammogram detected cancer in its early stages. A better approach is to find pre-cancer conditions and treat them, but if women are not aware of conditions that increase their risks, they cannot get treatment to reduce their risks.
The Good News
Mammograms are not the only technology available to monitor breast health. Advances in thermal imaging, which uses infrared cameras to detect heat patterns, promise help detecting conditions that increase the risk for breast cancer, as well as for identifying breast cancer at very early stages.
The pre-cancerous conditions, such as excessive estrogen, inflamed lymph nodes, and inflammation breast tissue, produce thermal patterns that infrared cameras detect. Certified reading doctors analyze the thermal images and look for those patterns. With clear information about pre-breast cancer conditions, a woman has the best opportunity to improve her health before those conditions produce breast cancer.
The Really Good News
Now, for the really good news. Some pre-breast cancer conditions are treatable, including estrogen dominance, chronic inflammation, and lymph node swelling and blockages.
For example, excessive estrogen may be relieved by clearing the liver so that it can properly convert the excessive estrogen into bile. Based on thermal images, psyllium seed and collodial bentonite treatments, combined with flaxseed oil doses, also may reduce symptoms of estrogen dominance.
Flaxseed oil can also reduce inflammation in breast tissue. Indeed, we have seen this in several of our clients who have used nightly compresses of flaxseed oil. This likely is because of the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed oils and other fatty acids that the body converts into omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation.
Your diaphragm acts like a pump for lymphatic fluids much like your heart pumps blood. (See this article about the lymph system.) A proposed simple strategy to keep the lymph system working properly is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, rather than from the chest, which causes the diaphragm to move completely. Does your belly move in and out when breathing? If so, you’re doing it right. The diaphragm motion helps pump fluids throughout your body system, which must occur for your lymph system to work correctly.
Exercise certainly helps keep the lymph system in tune. Detoxification regimes, too, may also help keep the lymph system working properly by reducing the quantity of toxins the lymph system must clear.
Regardless of the treatment type, natural treatments proposed here or other more clinical treatments, you first have to know what to treat.
For All Women
In every case, a woman who is experiencing pre-breast cancer conditions needs three things:
- To know that she has those conditions, such as through thermal imaging;
- To work with qualified and informed medical professionals on a reasonable and informed treatment plan for the specific conditions; and
- To monitor the progress of those conditions.
Next month, I’ll continue the discussion on breast cancer, specifically looking at the pros and cons of various techniques to identify and monitor breast cancer.