The modifiable risk factors of Breast Cancer that every woman needs to be aware of and how you can reduce your risk.

The most common cancer of women in North America is breast cancer. On average, 1 woman in 7 in North America will develop this cancer in her lifetime. In earlier years the risk was 1 in 20. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in North American women and the leading cause of death in the age group 40-55 years.

So let's talk about what the risk factors are and how to decrease your risk for breast cancer development. 

Understand what the risk factors are (the factors that increase the risk for developing breast cancer): 

Family history in first degree relative-mother or sister.

Early menarche (start of menstruation below the age of 12 years of age).

Late onset of menopause (after the age 55 year of age). 

Estrogen excess such as estrogen replacement therapy in menopause or use of birth control before age of 35 or longer than 5 years.

Obesity- because fat cells make estrogen via aromatase enzyme.

High fat diet, especially those high in arachidonic acid and saturated fat.

Moderate to high alcohol consumption increases risk 50-100%. Risk is entirely dose-dependent-for example, risk increases 45-50% with consumption of more than half of a glass of wine daily! A study has shown that 25% of breast cancers can be attributed to alcohol. The cancer risk from alcohol consumption can be slightly reduced by supplementing with folate and MMP-2 inhibitors such as green tea.

Cigarette smoking. 

Excess iron load increases risk. Measure ferritin.

Nulliparous-never having a child-risk up 30%

Child-bearing after age 30. First full term pregnancy after 25 puts up risk 40% over those having a child before 20.

Excess exposure to xenobiotics with estrogenic properties such as pesticides and herbicides. For example organochlorine pesticides like DDT increase risk of larger and more aggressive cancers.

Plasticizer bis-phenol A (BPA) accumulates in breast fat and is a potent xeno-estrogen found in soft plastics such as saran wrap, food containers and water bottles.

Exposure to anti-psychotic drugs which are dopamine antagonists, and anti-emetic dopamine antagonists for vomiting, because they elevate prolactin.

Depression has been found to increase risk of breast cancer by 42%

Low intake of calcium, vitamin D and other bone health factors promotes metastasis into the bones. Calcium build-up inside cells (cellular hypercalcinosis) is a powerful trigger of carcinogenesis, and ironically is due to a lack of proper calcium intake and utilization. If you are going to stay out of the sun and use sunscreens, supplementing with vitamin D3 daily is recommended.

A high-glycemic diet-high in sugar and refined starches is associated with higher risk of breast cancer and more rapid progression of the disease.

Insulin, prolactin, insulin-like growth factors and growth hormones are cancer promoters. Even slightly elevated IGF-1 and IGFBP-3 indicate significant risk for breast cancer in the Harvard Nurses Study. A major prognosis indicator for breast cancer patients is the blood insulin level at the time of diagnosis.

Stress hormone adrenaline (epinephrine) blocks cancer cells throwing the apoptosis death switch, Stress reduces the effectiveness of cancer therapies. The psycho-neuro-immunological system or hypothalamic-pituitary axis regulates a number of chemicals which breast cells carry receptors for: insulin, prolactin, vitamin D, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and other androgens.

Silicone breast implants increase risk 18x of a rare anaplastic large T-cell lymphoma, to 0.2 cases per year per 100, 000 women with implants.


 How to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer: 

High intake of dietary fiber, vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopenes, legumes, cruciferous vegetables and green tea.

Dietary phytoestrogens such as soy foods modulate estrogen receptors. The dietary targets for isoflavones is 40mg daily, from foods such as miso, tofu and soy milk.

DO NOT EAT GRAPEFRUIT! Even a ¼ of a grapefruit daily inhibits the estrogen-clearing cytochrome P450 CYP3A4 enzyme in the liver enough to increase risk of breast cancer by as much as 30%.

Low fat diet (bad fats) being it down to 20% of calories as fat: Monounsaturated such as oleic acid in olive are protective. Omega-3 fatty acids asre protective , as found in the wild salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines and herring; also in nuts and seeds. This is a big issue for those with estrogen-receptor negative ER- cancers. Risk is lower in those with high HDL- the good cholesterol, and is better in those with high total cholesterol versus low cholesterol. Low tryglycerides and low VLDL “bad cholesterol” predict a better response to treatment.

Low glycemic diet-and this is especially vital if you are sedentary or overweight, or have been on hormone replacement therapy. A low glycemic index reduces risk about 22%, by controlling insulin and insulin-like growth factors.

Beans and lentils twice weekly are protective. In general vegan or plant-based diets provide the lowest risk. I do insist that all animal foods be free of herbecides, pesticides, hormone and drugs. Red meat from grain-fed animals (ususally corn silage) are pro-inflammatory, whereas grass or pasture fed animals are safer, due to a more favorable omega-3 to omega-6 fat ratio.

Regular physical exercise, at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week. The ideal is to work up to 60 minutes up to 5 times per week. Hypoxia-inducible factor alpha HIF-alpha is associated with reduced survival and increased risk of metastases. Aerobic exercise increases circulation, and also controls blood sugar and this insulin and insulin-like growth factors.

Sunshine and vitamin D: so many people are avoiding sun exposure and using sunscreens to reduce risk of skin cancers, not now Canadians are showing up with vitamin D deficiency, particularly in the winter. In the winter studies have show that you need to take at least 2000 IU daily of vitamin D3 for protective benefits.

Maintain good bowel bacteria with enteric-coated probiotics.

Maintain the health of your thyroid glad: a subtle pre-clinical hypothyroid state is a risk factor for breast cysts, fibrosis and cancer. Iodine, exercise and immune balance are the foundation of thyroid health.

Stress management to moderate cortisol and blood sugar fluctuations.

Avoid the use of anti-perspirants: use natural grapefruit seed extract (GSE) deodorants.

Avoid alcohol and if you must drink take folate and vitamin B6.

 Breast cancer resistance protein BCRP is increased by intake of quercetin, resveratrol, DIM, green tea EGCG,  and other proteasome inhibitors. Therefore eat: Vegetables and fruits such as: apples, onions, grapes, cabbage, broccoli, and drink green tea.Urokinase deficiency increases the spread of breast cancer. This can be controlled with green tea EGCG.

Metastasis of breast cancer to the bones is regulates by STA3, TGF-beta, RANKL, and Src tyrosine kinases which are all targets of an oncology naturopathic protocol.

Detoxify your body of xenobiotics with an annual body cleanse:  many chemicals in plastics, pertecides, herbecides, flame retardants, etc are hormone mimics or hormone disruptors.

Breastfeeding benefits your breasts-the longer the better, for you and for your baby. The breast tissue completes its differentiation and carcinogens are eliminates in the breast milk. The months during pregnancy without periods also are risk reducers, so more kids and more nursing in the past may have helped keep rates lower.

 Specific dietary recommendations that decrease your risk of developing breast cancer:

Ellagic acid is anti-angiogenic and has been shown to be protective: ellagic acid is found in pomegranates, grapes and all berries.

 Eugenol inhibits COX-2, TNF-alpa, PGE-2 and IL-1B: dietary sources of eugenol are spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, basil and bayleaf.

Follow a low-fat diet: breast is mainly fatty tissue, and will accumulate fat-soluble toxins such as xenobiotic pesticides and other hormone-disrupting or hormone mimicking toxins.

A good amount of healthy fast can support better health, but remember fats need anti-oxidant support of they can turn on you. A balance of omega-3 to omega-6 is vital to regulate inflammation and its growth factors.

Folate from green leafy vegetables is protective.

Coloured fruits and vegetables provide anti-oxidants and natural carotenoids. One valuable example is lycopene from stewed tomatoes.

Fish provides omega-3 oils.

 Brown rice provides melatonin.

Rosemary is a great spice that balances hormones.

Two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds daily have been shown to reduce the rate of growth of breast tumors, and is significantly effective at preventing the spread of breast cancer. Flaxseeds lignans bind estrogen in the bowel, preventing re-uptake, and stimulates production of sex hormone binding globulins SHBGs, removinghormones from the blood stream. Flaxseed works best with a low fat diet high in other lignin fibre from fruit, berries, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

Grapeseed extract: the oligomeric proanthocyanidins OCPs in grapeseed extract have a profound effect on breast cancer, as a cytoxic, aromatase inhibitor, and anti-angiogenic. Similar anthocyanidins are found in red, or purple grapes, pomegranate, bilberry, raspberry cranberry, black berry and blueberry. 

A naturopathic physician can guide you with diet, orthomolecular and botanical medicine protocols that are  appropriate for your specific case. We can avoid many risk factors by eating organic foods, choosing natural/organic personal hygiene products and home cleaning products, and generally reducing our dependance on synthetic chemical products. However, even a perfect lifestyle does not protect us against certain exposures that are out of our control. Therefore, supporting your body by priming its natural elimination and detoxification pathways to reduce your body's toxic burden should be considered an important component of a healthy lifestyle routine.


Source: Naturopathic Oncology by Dr. Neil McKinney, BSc, ND.