When I was a teenager, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, she is now a survivor of almost 20 years.
Several years after my mother’s diagnosis, the mother of a close friend was also diagnosed with breast cancer, and went through her round of surgeries and treatments.
Now, within the last three months, three more women in my circle of family and friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and all three have had full or partial mastectomies. Aside from people in my own personal circle, I have also worked with a number of clients who either struggled with or previously survived breast cancer.
According to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada (BSCS), the incidence of breast cancer has been rising steadily since 1980s, which they partially attribute to awareness and screening methods. The projected statistics from the BCSC also state that 1 in 9 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.
Considering the statistics and the number of people that I know with breast cancer, should I assume that I am one of the 8 other women who will not be physically affected by this disease? I don’t want to take the chance…
My Journey with Breast Cancer and Breast Health
When I was in university, I found a lump in my left breast and was stricken with panic and fear, imagining the worst. I went to see a doctor at Health Services, and was told that it was benign. Phew!
After this experience in university, I started to really become aware of my body and my need to prevent or at least diminish the chances that I might get this disease that had affected my family so much when I growing up.
I immediately started doing research, and made some basic adjustments to my lifestyle. I changed the type of bra I wore, switched my underarm deodorant, and began to look at many other dietary and lifestyle factors.
Once I began my own practice as a Holistic Nutritionist, I registered for a course called The Healthy Breast Program, and continued to learn more about the risk factors of breast cancer, as well as the preventative and supportive measures that women could use to promote the health of their breasts.
Protecting Your Breasts and Your Health
I believe that every person is biochemically unique, and that we all have a different propensity for health or illness based on a large number of factors. While there are too many factors to cover in this one article, I have outlined four factors that have an impact on breast health, along with recommendations for how to support your health in light of these risk factors.
Please note that none of these tips or recommendations is meant to replace the advice or care of a qualified medical professional, nor are they meant to be a replacement for regular medical checkups and proper medical care.
1. Your Bra and Your Lymphatic Flow
There has been much discussion over whether bras are a benefit or a hindrance. While many women believe that wearing a bra at all times is a cure for the inevitable sagging that occurs with age (it isn’t), many doctors and healthcare professionals state that wearing a bra can put you at a greater risk for fibrocystic breasts or breast cancer.
A tight fitting bra, particularly one with underwire, restricts movement and can cut off the circulation of blood and lymph to the area surrounding the breasts. This prevents cellular waste and other toxins from being properly removed from the surrounding area and can increase the chance of developing cancer.
Bottom line: Wearing a soft, comfortable bra without underwire is ideal. Going braless at home can help promote proper lymphatic drainage.
Finding the right fit is also important. It is estimated that up to 80% of women in North America are wearing improperly fitted bras. Visiting a specialty bra shop that offers bra fittings is well worth it, for comfort as well as health!
2. The White Stuff – Antiperspirants
A high number of breast cancers have been found in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, causing researchers to investigate the possible role of cosmetics applied to the area – namely antiperspirants and deodorants.
White deodorants and antiperspirants usually contain aluminum salts as active ingredients. Aluminum compounds in antiperspirants act by creating a temporary plug in the sweat ducts, preventing sweat from being released on the surface of the skin.
In addition to blocking the natural detoxification process that occurs through sweating, aluminum has known effects of altering DNA in the body, which can have serious implications in a variety of diseases.
Scientific studies on aluminum compounds in antiperspirants have also shown that they have an effect on estrogen receptors in the breast, another strong factor in the development of breast cancer.
Research has also found high levels of parabens, a preservative used in many deodorants (including many “natural” deodorants), in breast tissue. Parabens have also shown an estrogenic effect in the body.
Bottom Line: Avoid antiperspirants altogether – sweat is part of your body’s detoxification system and you want it to be working optimally.
Choose deodorants without aluminum compounds or parabens. Crystal deodorant sticks (Lafe’s Crystal Stick, for example) consist of mineral salts that kill odour-causing bacteria without blocking sweat ducts.
3. Plastics – Beware of Everyday Toxins
Plastics contain high levels of hormone disrupting and hormone mimicking chemicals that have been implicated in a higher risk of developing cancer.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastics most often contain dioxins and phthalates, which disrupt hormones in the body.
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical found in many plastics that is a weak synthetic estrogen. Research has shown that exposure to BPA may lead to the development of cancer.
Bottom Line: Any plastic can leach toxic chemicals when scratched or exposed to heat. Do not cook in plastic containers (including plastic wraps) or use plastic storage containers, cutting boards, or dishes. Instead, choose glass, ceramic, stone crockery, or stainless steel cookware.
You can read more about the dangers of plastics and alternatives for everyday items in the article “Exposure to Chemicals in Plastics” from breastcancer.org.
4. Pesticides, Antibiotics, and Hormones
Several research studies have shown a strong correlation between incidences of cancer and the level of pesticide residues in the body.
Many chemical pesticides are estrogen mimickers that wreak havoc on hormonal balance in the body.
While many crops sprayed with pesticides are “within the allowable limits” for human safety, this doesn’t account for the accumulation of multiple exposures over time. Since pesticides are largely fat soluble, they are not readily eliminated and build up in the body over time.
Animal products (meats, dairy products, and eggs) from animals that eat feed that have been exposed to pesticides will also increase your exposure to these harmful chemicals.
In addition to pesticides in their feed, many animals are routinely injected with growth hormones and antibiotics to improve their yields. These hormones and antibiotics then make it into your system when you consume products from these animals.
Exposure to high level of hormones and antibiotics through our food system has a serious impact on hormonal balance and immune response, both of which affect your risk of developing breast cancer.
Bottom line: Choose organic foods when possible. Opt for meats, dairy, eggs, and poultry from farms that do not use hormones, antibiotics, or chemicals in their processing.
You can find more tips for avoiding chemicals in food, including a list of the “Dirty Dozen” – the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables here.
The incidence of breast cancer in women is higher than you might expect, with statistics estimating that 1 in 9 women will develop the disease in their lifetime. I would like to see that number decrease.
By following the guidelines above, you can help decrease your risk factors and minimize your exposure to toxins that have been linked with the development of breast cancer.
These recommendations are only a small part of a larger number of changes to your lifestyle that can improve your overall health and prevention against serious illness. You may have noticed that I haven’t added anything about diet, nutrition, and exercise. That’s because those are very large topics on their own, and will be covered in a separate article.
If you would like to take a more proactive role in your health, including educating yourself on dietary and lifestyle factors that can significantly improve the way you look and feel, I encourage you to contact us to schedule an appointment for Nutritional Consulting with Rebecca Loach.
Do you have any other tips to add? Write a comment on our blog below!
1. Darbre, PD. Aluminum, Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer. J Inorg Biochem. 2005 Sep;99(9):1912-9.
2. Darbre, PD. Underarm Cosmetics and Breast Cancer. J Appl Toxicol. 2003 Mar-Apr;23(2):89-95.
3. Darbre, PD, et. al. Concentration of parabens in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):5-13.
4. Kaur, Sat Dharam, ND. 2003. The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Breast Cancer. Toronto, Ontario: Robert Rose Inc.
5. What do doctors say about fibrocystic breast disease and bra wearing? 007 Breasts. Retrieved February 6, 2013 from http://www.007b.com/fibrocystic_doctors.php