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With every mammogram, I think about what I would do if diagnosed this time with breast cancer. First, I'd wig. A woman's risk of a breast cancer diagnosis is one in eight over her lifetime. Second, I'd call the five people who matter the most: Darling Husband, Mom, Sisters, and BFF.
Then I'd get all empowered and put on my big girl face, and get down to the business of breast cancer prevention.
It's timely to chat about breast cancer prevention because the National Cancer Institute announced recently that there will be a 50 percent increased risk of new cases of breast cancer diagnosis by the year 2030. (1) No wonder we are so concerned and scared! Breast cancer—especially the hormone-driven type of breast cancer that’s related to what you eat and drink—is on the rise. Patients and friends have asked me to post on this topic, usually because they've received a breast cancer diagnosis, or diagnosis of pre-cancer (ductal carcinoma in situ or atypical hyperplasia), or have an increased risk based on family history, or . . . are just female and appropriately concerned.
When I went through my medical training, the prevailing theory was that you'd get one mutated breast cancer cell in your breast tissue, and it would divide into daughter cells. Over time (say, two years), it would develop into a breast cancer mass on a mammogram or thermogram or MRI, and eventually a lump that you or your clinician would feel. But we don't think that anymore. The latest thinking is that all of us run around with cancer cells, but the key is what type of neighborhood we provide. Do you have a bad neighborhood with drive-by shootings and gang violence--such as from eating too much sugar, drinking too much alcohol (more than 3 servings per week), and/or high stress? (2) Or do you cultivate a good neighborhood by eating 80 percent veggies on your plate, healing your gut, and getting the right dose of love, empathy, forgiveness, and extra dark chocolate?
Long story short, we all have aberrant cells or oncogenes looking for some action. While we don't fully understand all the ins and outs, it's basically your lifestyle, genetics, immune functioning and nutrition that determine whether those cancer cells grow or get removed by your personal army of immune cells. Even more important is the role of your gut flora (microbiota) and their DNA (microbiome), and the subset of the microbiome that controls estrogen levels called the estrobolome. (3)
But don't wait for the wake-up call of a breast cancer diagnosis to get with the program, or step up to a better program of breast cancer diagnosis. If you've already received a breast cancer diagnosis, don't wait around powerless and fretting for a diagnosis of breast cancer recurrence. Step into sacred action.
I can't sit by and listen to my patients tell me of the disempowering message from breast surgeons which goes something like this: "There, there, I've taken out your cancer, now you go on and live your life."
To that I would say, "But what can I do to turn the tide on my tendency toward breast cancer? There must be nutritional, hormonal, environmental risks that I can modify."
At that point, Breast Surgeon rolls their eyes and wishes I would go away.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to turn the tide on breast cancer. It's all about prevention: radical prevention of your first breast cancer diagnosis, prevention of breast cancer recurrence, using food as medicine, modifying your risk factors, and most importantly but often neglected, monitoring your progress.
1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2015/04/20/breast-cancers-predicted-to-rise-by-50-percent-by-2030/ 2. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1104580 3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3264051/ 4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24767622; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25228297; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19643176 5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24915535; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24156520; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22450856; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20816374
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