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Preventing Breast Cancer

BREAST CANCER is the most common cancer in the UK. Although a person's age and family history are irreversible factors there are contributing lifestyle factors which you can change. With that in mind, I would like to share another story with you that has an important message.

A patient whom I will call Molly is a 52 y old lady, happily married and a mother of one daughter. Molly was very recently diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Luckily, very soon after receiving the bad news, Molly had breast-conserving surgery followed by radiation therapy. What happened after the surgery and cancer treatments is where I come in. Molly requested a consultation from me to learn if there was anything she could do to prevent a cancer recurrence. I was happy to tell her about all the numerous prevention methods that can be done in our everyday lives and I must share them with you.

During our consultation Molly very quickly admitted that she does not practice healthy eating or exercise habits. She told me that she had tried hormone replacement therapy for a couple of months but not consistently, she loves chocolate, cakes and consumes high doses of carbohydrates and is also a heavy smoker, smoking up to 10 cigarettes a day. On top of all of this Molly is also overweight and she likes to enjoy a few glasses of white wine with dinner on a daily basis. Important to know

  • The National Cancer Institute estimates that 12.3% of all women (about 1 in 8) would be diagnosed with breast cancer throughout their lifetime. It is the most common cancer in the UK, and the majority of breast cancers (81%) occur in women over the age of 50.

  • Less than 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary.

  • Some risk factors are related to personal behaviors and lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, diet and obesity.

Back to Molly. Obviously my first recommendation was for Molly to stop smoking. Smoking is linked to lung cancer but it also increases the risk for breast cancer. I also urged Molly to lose weight because obesity increases risk of several cancers including breast cancer. Women who are overweight or obese after menopause have a 30 - 60 percent higher breast cancer risk than those who are lean. I also recommended Molly to start regular exercise. Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back, as well as reducing the risk of developing the first breast cancer.

How to prevent

  • Cut down on inflammatory processed foods ie. bacon, sausage, red meats.

  • Cut down on sugar! because sugar feeds cancer.

  • Alcohol drinking has been found to be associated with breast cancer risk.

  • Increase anti-inflammatory food intake ie. green leafy vegetables, salad, cruciferous vegetables, fatty fish, nuts and berries.

  • Stay at a normal weight, because obesity increases risk of several cancers including breast cancer.

  • Regular screening is also important because it can find breast cancer early when treatments are more likely to be successful.

Changing a lifestyle is not always easy and it wasn´t for Molly either. I advised her to start taking supplements: Omega 3, Magnesium, B-vitamin, Vitamin D, NAC, Trans-Resveratrol, Garlic, Indole-3- Carbinol, Melatonin at night and Green Tea. This large recommendation of supplements was a little bit overwhelming for her but she was ready to try. I also recommended Molly to start exercising regularly and this was a major step in her life since she had only done some casual, short walks.

Important facts

  • There are several studies about vitamin D and its cancer prevention activity.

  • Cruciferous vegetables’ (such as broccoli’s) main healthy compound is indole -3- carbinol (I3C). I3C and its byproduct diindolylmethane’s (DIM) have multiple anti-cancer properties. They have been shown to protect against hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast, cervical and prostate cancers.

  • Garlic and garlic-derived compounds have been shown to suppress breast cancer growth in cultures.

  • N-acetyl- cysteine (NAC): has been found to reduce risk of developing various types of cancer.

  • Melatonin: several studies have found that women who work on night shifts, have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Some researchers think the effect may be due to lack of melatonin. Melatonin has been found in many studies to have anti-cancer properties.

  • Resveratrol (also in red wine) is a naturally occurring plant polyphenol that has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Understanding the benefits of these simple tools; right supplements, regular exercise and healthy diet have now helped Molly to understand how certain things increase risks and how others help us to fight against diseases. Molly has now not only felt the change but she has also seen the change personally; her weight has started to go down and as a result of her new diet combined with the right supplements she is feeling better, healthier and more energetic.

Hormones and HRT in relation to breast cancer is a far more complex entity since there are hormones that increase as well as decrease risks of breast cancer. I will introduce this important topic later on however for now, I want to emphasize that although there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, remember that there are numerous things that you can do to lower the risks.

-Dr Paivi

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Dr Paivi Shedd is an A4M Fellowship, Board Certified doctor in Anti-Aging, Regenerative and Functional Medicine.

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