Breast Cancer – Prevention Is The Key

By Lorna Vanderhaeghe, B.Sc.

I was ten years old when I visited my maternal grandmother for the last time. It was Christmas and my grandmother had prepared a fabulous turkey dinner with all the trimmings but she ate baby food from a jar­she was dying of breast cancer and the cancer had spread to her digestive tract. Fear stopped her from seeking an early diagnosis and she waited until the cancer was growing outside of her breast before visiting her doctor. Breast cancer has left an indelible mark on my life, the images of my dying grandmother still strong in my mind. Prevention is a word we speak often in our household with two daughters aged 17 and 24 and a family history of this terrible disease.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women ages 35-54. Our risk is rising. In 1960 one in 20 developed breast cancer. Today 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer and of those who have breast cancer 1 in 4 will die. Younger and younger women are also developing breast cancer. Genetics plays a role in less than 10 percent of breast cancer cases. With this fact in mind we should be asking what is causing the other 90 percent of breast cancers. The answer­80 percent of all cancers are thought to be related to environmental factors, while diet plays a role in at least 35 percent of all cancers. We can reduce our risk, we can adopt a prevention strategy but first we have to know what the factors are that are increasing our risk of breast cancer. Take the breast cancer risk test below to evaluate your own personal risk.

There are three factors that the American Cancer Society states are the ‘only’ known risk factors, these include: hereditary (genetics), starting periods early and going through menopause late (this exposes you to too many years of estrogen), and a high fat diet. Yet there is a tremendous amount of research showing that common environmental factors are potential breast cancer causing agents. We have been trained to believe that the only way to prevent breast cancer is through regular mammograms. This is a diagnostic method, to diagnose breast cancer once you have it­not a prevention method. Early diagnosis is key to acquiring fast and appropriate treatment but it does not prevent breast cancer.

What are the most common but unpublicized risks for breast cancer? Estrogen replacement therapy in high doses with prolonged use; oral contraceptive use in young women with prolonged use; pre-menopausal mammography with early and repeated exposure; non hormonal prescription drugs such as some anti-hypertensive medications; silicone gel breast implants, especially those wrapped in polyurethane foam; diets high in fat contaminated with undisclosed carcinogens and estrogenic chemicals; exposure in the workplace or home to household chemicals or pollution from chemical plants and waste sites; alcohol and tobacco use with early or excessive use; lack of exercise; use of dark hair dyes with early or prolonged use.

Estrogen Friend or Foe?

Excess or cancer causing estrogens have also been linked to the development of breast cancer. Scientists have discovered that certain foods, stress, a lack of exercise and environmental toxins call all wreak havoc with our estrogens. These factors have also been shown to cause good estrogens to be converted to cancer-causing estrogens. And now a new and more serious alarm bell has been raised­estrogen mimickers in our environment called xenoestrogens (pronounced ‘zeno’ estrogens) found in plastics, pesticide and herbicide-laden foods, cosmetics, hair dyes, bleached feminine hygiene products, plastics, some prescription drugs, dry cleaned clothing and nail polish, are further disrupting our estrogen balance increasing our risk of breast cancer, infertility and birth defects. Xenoestrogens, I believe, are the biggest contributing factor to increased rates of breast cancer. Yet most women do not know that common substances they use everyday are increasing their risk­things that they could avoid if they knew what they were.

HRT and Breast Cancer

The single biggest question I get at public lectures and through E-mail is “Should I take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or How do I get off of HRT?” The baby boomers are just starting to enter menopause or peri-menopause (over 55 million North American women) and prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy, a combination of synthetic estrogen and progestin called HRT sold in pill form and the patch, are being written in increasing numbers to prevent everything from hot flashes to protection from cardiovascular disease. In Canada HRT is the number three most prescribed drug with 12 million prescriptions written in 2001. In the United States in the year 2000 over 22 million prescriptions were written.

Did you Know?
The following HRT drugs, PremphaseTM (which contains Premarin), PremproTM and Premarin® deplete the body of magnesium, vitamin B6 and zinc.

Now the study that ends the debate has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July 2002 and women are being warned of the risks of stroke, heart attack, blood clots and breast cancer. This study of 16,608 women found that the reduction of hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness offered by HRT may come with disastrous health consequences. The Women’s Health Initiative randomized controlled trial scheduled to run 8.5 years was abruptly halted at 5.2 years because women in the treatment group had a 26 percent increased risk of invasive breast cancer. This increased risk was seen around the third year of the study. This is not the first study to show increased risk of breast cancer, but this is the one that the scientific community is listening to. I have heard advocates trying to rescue HRT saying it is ‘only’ 8 women in 10,000 that will get breast cancer as a result of HRT. I would like those making this statement to make it personal­those 8 women could be their mother, sisters, daughters, wife, grandmother and aunts.

The study also concluded that women who took HRT were 41 percent more likely to have a stroke and they also had a 29 percent increased risk of heart attack and this was in a group of healthy women not at high risk for heart disease. The increased risk of coronary heart disease caused by HRT was seen within the first 1 to 2 years of the study. No longer will women be prescribed HRT to reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease. The study did show a reduction in the risk of fracture and colorectal cancer but the risks of stroke, heart attack and breast cancer outweigh any benefit for these conditions. Women taking HRT are also at risk of gallbladder and liver disease and blood clots.

We know that women who still have a uterus can’t take estrogen alone because it increases the risk of uterine or endometrial cancer dramatically. Estrogen dominance or too much estrogen as mentioned earlier is also cause for concern for everything from endometriosis, heavy periods and weight gain to uterine fibroids. A study in the Journal of the American Chemical Society has also reported a by-product of Premarin® (horse urine derived estrogen) damaged DNA in a way that could cause cancer.

My answer has always been the same. When we weigh the risks and benefits of HRT the risks outweigh the benefits and my answer is say no to HRT. For the millions of women who have been taking HRT they will now want to detoxify their bodies of the cancer-causing estrogens (see eight nutrients to detoxify cancer-causing estrogens)*. If they are in the throes of menopause they should start to wean off the HRT and at the same time start taking the nutrients mentioned below along with black cohosh and vitex to help them ease off the drug symptom free. After about six weeks on the nutrients you should be off your HRT.

Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Test

Take the breast health test ( Click here to take the test) and discover your true risk for breast cancer. Less than 10 percent of breast cancers are genetic. Knowing genetics is a minor factor in the development of breast cancer we need to understand the other rarely mentioned factors that increase our risk of breast cancer.

How to interpret your score:

0-18 lower risk
19-35 moderate to high risk
35-65 high risk

We can choose alternatives to many of the risk factors above and we can make dietary and lifestyle changes that will protect us from developing breast cancer or at least reduce our risk.

Diet and Breast Cancer

Knowing that poor diet plays a role in 35 percent of breast cancer cases we will want to improve this area first. Insist on organic fruits and vegetables to reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens. Eat plenty of organic vegetables, especially those from the cruciferous family: broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts, they contain Indole-3-carbinol and sulphoraphane known breast cancer inhibitors. Reduce your intake of sugar as it suppresses the immune system. Eat organic dairy products and meats that don’t contain xenoestrogens. Reduce the amount of animal products you eat and choose more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and eat curry three times a week. Take a multivitamin with minerals and essential fatty acids including 1600mg of organic flax seed oil and 1,000mg of organic evening primrose oil. Or simply take FemmEssentials your complete multivitamin with minerals designed specifically for women.

Ensure that the fats you eat are those that are rich in essential fatty acids including flax seed oil. Eat high lignan flax seeds (ground and sprinkled on your cereal everyday) which have been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Several nutrients have been studied for their ability to help detoxify cancer causing environmental estrogens and keep hormones balanced while preventing breast cancer.

Take the following nutrients found in EstroSense to prevent breast cancer and eliminate toxic estrogens:

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is an anti-cancer phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables. Research has shown that I3C helps to breakdown cancer-causing estrogens to non-toxic forms. It has also been shown to inhibit breast cancer tumors.
Calcium D-glucarate is a powerful detoxifier of excess estrogens from the liver and important for both the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
Green Tea Extract contains polyphenols, catechins and flavonoids shown to be protective against estrogen-dominant breast cancers.
Curcumin is the yellow pigment of turmeric – the chief ingredient in curry. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and it works to inhibit all steps of cancer formation: initiation, promotion, and progression. Curcumin also protects against inflammatory calcium loss from our bones.
Milk thistle enhances detoxification from the liver, inhibits breast cancer cells from replicating and reduces the toxic effects of chemotherapy.
Rosemary extract, a potent antioxidant, inhibits breast cancer development and it helps to detoxify carcinogenic estrogens.
Lycopene found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, papaya, guava and watermelon, was recently shown to reduce a women’s risk of breast cancer by 36 percent when those women took 6.5 mg per day.
Sulphoraphane, from broccoli sprout extract, has been shown to stimulate the body’s production of detoxification enzymes that eliminate xenoestrogens. Recent research points to this nutrient as a powerful anti-breast cancer agent. Sulphoraphane is also a powerful antioxidant.
All of the nutrients mentioned above are available in EstroSense found at your local health food store. Click on the coupon for discounts on this product.

Never microwave foods in plastic or cover with plastic wrap (especially baby formula). This releases the xenoestrogens in the plastics. Store foods in glass or pyrex containers.

What Else Can We do?

We can avoid pesticides, use nail polish that is tolulene and phthalate-free (pronounced thalate) and choose hair dyes that are safe. Safe hair dye and nail polish are available at the health food store. We can choose unbleached sanitary products, again these can be found at your health food store. We can avoid certain prescription drugs that caused mammory tumors in rats and mice. We can limit the amount of dry cleaned clothing we wear. We can choose to exercise 30 minutes, three times a week and eat healthy foods that don’t disrupt our estrogens. We can take nutritional supplements that protect against environmental estrogens and support the liver and body to fight cancer before it begins. We can support new mothers to breast feed for as long as possible. Breast feeding has been shown to be a powerful protector from breast cancer. We can clean up our environment to reduce our exposure to xenoestrogens. We can reduce the number of yearly x-rays we have from dental x-rays, chest x-rays and have a baseline mammogram, then only if required thereafter. These are things that can reduce our risk of breast cancer and prevent this rapidly rising disease.


Shabert, J. Nutrition and Women’s health. Curr Prob Obstet. Gynecol. Fetil. 1996, 19:115-66. Epstein S. The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, Macmillan, USA 1998 Erickson, K Drop Dead Gorgeous, Contemporary Books 2002 Lee J. What Your Doctor May not Tell you about Breast Cancer, Warner Books, 2001 Keuneke, R. Total Breast Health, Kensington Books, 1998 Vanderhaeghe, L. Healthy Immunity, Scientifically Proven Natural Treatments for Conditions from A-Z, Macmillan Books, 2001

Leave a Reply