The Breast Health Handbook

How to reduce your risk of breast cancer.
The Breast Health Handbook
Pin it courtesy of Shutterstock

WOMEN LIVE IN A CONSTANT STATE OF "YELLOW ALERT" when it comes to breast cancer. In a recent worldwide survey, almost 50 percent of the women polled said they were afraid of developing breast cancer; according to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 211,000 women in the United States will get breast cancer this year.

The good news is that fewer women are dying from breast cancer, due to improved diagnostic techniques that catch tumors early, more effective treatments, and growing insight into lifestyle and environmental risk factors. This means that every woman has choices in how she approaches breast cancer, whether her concern is prevention, treatment, or coping with the disease in herself or in her loved ones.

The Estrogen Link

WHO IS MOST AT RISK to develop breast cancer? "Women think it's genetic, and that's a misconception," declares Christine Horner, M.D., F.A.C.S., author of Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner's Program to Protect Against & Fight Breast Cancer. While DNA is the main risk for women with certain mutations, 90 percent of breast cancers occur in women with no family history of the disease. Why them?

One reason is high, cumulative exposure to estrogen. Many breast tumors are estrogen-responsive, meaning the hormone makes cancer cells grow and divide. Of the three major types of estrogen--estriol, estrone, and estradiol--the latter fuels breast cancer the most. The body produces estradiol during every menstruation. So if a girl starts her periods at 10 rather than at 16 (increasingly the case in the U. S.), her risk for breast cancer is 50 percent higher for the rest of her life, says Horner. Not getting pregnant or not breastfeeding (times when minimal estradiol is produced); having short, more frequent cycles; and experiencing menopause past age 55 augment the risk. Also, hormone replacement therapy combining estrogen and progestin is associated with an elevated chance of first and recurrent breast cancers.

On top of that, there's the environmental factor. "We are exposed to a huge amount of chemicals and toxins that mimic the estrogen molecule," says Horner. Culprits include certain soft plastics and heavy metals, as well as pesticides like DDT that are banned in the U.S. but may be present on imported produce.

One answer to bodily pollution: Go organic. "You can't be 100 percent free from these toxins, because they are everywhere in our environment," says Horner. "But you can keep them at an absolute minimum by consuming only organic fruits and vegetables and whole grains." Also, switching to organic meats and dairy reduces your exposure to a potentially harmful growth hormone.

The "go organic" advice doesn't stop at foods but extends to household cleaners, paint and building materials, clothing, and bedding (cotton is the most pesticide-heavy crop in the world). "Assume everything is toxic unless it's labeled nontoxic," says Horner.