by Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher
The subject of breast cancer is so broad that it deserves several in-depth articles covering different aspects of the condition, its prevention, and treatment. Although such an endeavor is not possible within the confines of this relatively brief web article, some major highlights of breast cancer prevention and screening will be discussed.
Let’s look first at breast cancer prevention. To begin, we’ll examine some of the American Cancer Society’s best advice for breast (or any) cancer prevention. Preferring to generate original material, this writer rarely ever includes large passages of a source’s words verbatim; however, in this particular case, I felt that the American Cancer Society did a particularly good and succinct job of providing useful information in its printed materials. The next following twelve paragraphs are words taken directly from American Cancer Society pamphlets and booklets. A brief note will be made in the article when American Cancer Society words end, and this writer resumes original material.
Maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
• Balance caloric intake with physical activity.
• Avoid excessive weight gain throughout your life.
• Achieve and maintain a healthy weight if currently overweight or obese.
Adopt a physically active lifestyle.
• Adults should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, above your usual daily activities, on five days or more a week; 45 to 60 minutes of intentional physical activity is preferable if you want to reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer.
• Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least five days a week.
Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant sources.
• Choose foods and beverages in amounts that will help you maintain a healthy weight.
• Eat at least five servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
• Choose whole grains instead of refined grains and sugars.
• Limit your consumption of processed and red meats.
If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption.
• For men, limit alcohol to two drinks a day, for women, 1 drink a day.
• A drink is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or one and one-half ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
• The risk of breast cancer increases with just a few drinks per week. Women at high risk for breast cancer may consider not consuming alcohol at all. Reducing alcohol consumption is a good way for women who drink regularly to reduce their risk of breast cancer.
Other important dietary tips from the American Cancer Society include:
• Canned and frozen vegetables and fruits can be just as nutritious as fresh and, depending on the season, may be cheaper. Watch out for canned fruits packed in heavy syrup and for vegetables high in sodium. Choose frozen fruits without added sugar and frozen vegetables without high-fat sauces.
• Packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber, beans are a great addition to your cancer-fighting diet. Try them in salads, in soups, as a side dish, or even as a main course. Try serving main-course bean dishes at least once a week as a low-fat, high fiber alternative to meat. In a hurry? Use canned beans instead of dried.
• Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient on labels for bread, cereal, and crackers. Choose whole grains over processed (white) grains when possible.
• Choose fish, poultry, or beans as an alternative to beef, pork, and lamb.
• When you eat meat, select lean cuts and smaller portions.
• Prepare meat by baking, broiling, or poaching, rather than by frying or charbroiling.
• Frying or charbroiling meats at very high temperatures creates chemicals that might increase cancer risk. Although these chemicals cause cancer in animal experiments, it’s not clear if they actually cause cancer in people. Best advice: limit how often you grill meats; don’t eat any charred parts, and precook meats a little before you put them on the grill to limit their time being grilled.
Writer’s note: American Cancer Society information ends with the above paragraph.
This writer’s original material proceeds from this point forward, unless otherwise noted.
There are several dietary supplements that show good evidence of helping to avoid breast cancer and/or to help the person fighting breast cancer to survive their condition more successfully.
The book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC has a fascinating, thorough, and well-written nine and one-half page section devoted to breast cancer prevention, screening, and nutritional support for women seeking to avoid breast cancer or treat it more effectively.
The following dietary supplement suggestions are recommended in Balch’s book, and these same supplements have been widely discussed and recommended in other media. Of course, as always, check with your personal physician before taking supplements, especially if you are presently under treatment for breast cancer or take prescription drugs for any ailment.
Below is a brief listing of each supplement and its benefits:
• CoQ10 – This substance improves cellular oxygenation and is available widely for improving heart health. Increasing evidence supports the theory that coenzyme Q10 reduces the risk of breast cancer.
• Colostrum – Boosts the immune system to protect against infections and is known to promote accelerated healing.
• Garlic – It has been used for ages to maintain wellness and has been scientifically shown to enhance immune function.
• Melatonin – This substance is known to block estrogen-receptor sites on breast cancer cells; if you’ve ever suffered from seizures, talk to your doctor before using this product.
• Multivitamin and Multi-mineral – Overall nutritional balance is needed to keep cells functioning properly. Multis can help fill in dietary nutritional gaps and help stressed human bodies cope better with disease and treatment.
• Vitamin E – Deficiency has been linked to breast cancer. Vitamin E also helps with hormone production and immune function.
• Vitamin C – This vitamin has a long history of improving immune response to any invaders, including cancer cells.
• Natural carotenoid complex – The carotenoid complex works as a powerful antioxidant that destroys free radicals, thereby protecting cells from damage.
• Omega 3 fatty acids – They improve any inflammatory problems and lower cancer risk.
• Curcumin – Is another powerful anti-inflammatory agent and immune enhancer.
• Rosemary extract – It is an excellent anti-oxidant that helps remove estrogens from the body; and therefore, may help inhibit breast cancer development.
Screenings are very important for breast health!
Depending on which group of experts you refer to for advice, mammograms should become yearly events at age 40, 45, or 50. Generally, women younger than 40 are urged to talk with their doctors about an appropriate screening schedule based on individual factors. Of course, high-risk women of any age may need more frequent screenings and/or screenings with added dimensions of testing, such as ultrasound. Women of any age with dense breast tissue are in particular need of ultrasound or MRI testing in addition to mammograms because mammograms cannot always detect small tumors in dense breasts.
Yearly manual breast exams by a doctor or nurse are a good idea for all women of all ages. Young women may be able to extend to an every two or three year testing schedule, but do so only after consulting with a doctor for guidance.
Self-exams of the breast on a frequent (often monthly) schedule are a good idea and can help the individual woman familiarize herself with what’s normal for her particular body. Self- exams have led many a woman to discover a problem (sometimes cancer, sometimes another condition) with her breasts. Early treatment of any problem – cancer, benign tumors, bacterial or fungal infections, etc. – generally leads to a more successful outcome and quicker resolution of the situation.
When it comes to screenings, the most important thing to do is open up a comfortable channel of communication with your doctor about your breast health. Discuss your individual risk factors, any breast related concerns you have, and any fears you may have about your health, the screenings themselves, and if needed, treatment options.
When it comes to preventing, detecting, and treating breast cancer, thoughtful, calm, deliberate action is the best path to follow.