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Tasneem Bhatia, M.D. Headshot

Beyond BRACA: 7 Keys to Breast Cancer Prevention

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It is everywhere -- pink ribbons, thinking pink and intense attention on breast cancer. As October unfolds in the midst of falling leaves and Halloween, we take pause to debate, discuss and raise money for one of the leading diseases for women today. [1]

In my office, I often meet women at varying points in their breast cancer journey. Some walk in newly diagnosed desperate for answers and solutions. Others may have had a friend or family member that walked through a breast cancer diagnosis and are in turn motivated to learn their own risks for this dreaded disease. Too many patients often arrive having already battled this disease, but were not given a comprehensive plan for prevention of recurrence.

Fortunately, women today do have options. The use of mammograms and breast ultrasounds along with genetic testing has allowed women to be proactive about their breast cancer risks. Many women are opting for prophylactic mastectomies and even contralateral mastectomies at higher rates than in past years. [2]

We need more. We need more options than losing our breasts, ovaries and other organs. Surely the conversation on breast cancer prevention has to be more involved than this?

As I continue to work with breast cancer survivors and those who want to learn more about their risks, there are consistent patterns emerging that influence cancer risks. Breast cancer prevention does not need to be a conversation limited to mastectomies and genetic testing. True cancer prevention begins with learning ways to prevent expression of genetic mutations, ways to beat BRACA.

7 Steps to Beating BRACA

Hormone Herstorians -- Understand Your Hormones

Preventing breast cancer requires a thorough understanding of your hormones and how they may be influenced by the environment, diet and lifestyle. Some women are poor metabolizers of estrogen; they fail to break down estrogen effectively. This results in poor estrogen detoxification, leading to the concept of estrogen dominance. Dense, lumpy breasts, fibroids, ovarian cysts and endometriosis are all signs of estrogen dominance. For women with estrogen dominance, birth control pills, in vitro fertilization, and environmental estrogens can aggravate this functional medicine issue.

Other hormones also influence estrogen status. Sluggish thyroids, high insulin levels and high progesterone can also activate breast cancer genetics.

Detox Your Diet

Numerous studies show that diets high in plant-based foods lower the risk of breast cancer, especially estrogen receptor negative cancers. [3] Increasing daily consumption of fruits and vegetables to include six to eight servings per day helps to metabolize estrogen and stabilize insulin. Lowering consumption of meat, dairy and gluten to less than one serving per day also improves hormone metabolism. When consuming meat and dairy, it is best to choose organic products to lower exposure to xenoestrogens and added industrial hormones.

Sleeping Beauty Had It Right

Women need consistent sleep cycles, at least five nights per week. We know from prior studies that shift workers often have higher rates of breast cancer compared to their peers. [4] Maintaining a consistent sleep cycle is critical for hormone balance.

Methylate

Every woman should know this word. The ability to use certain nutrients, like B vitamins, plays a large role in estrogen metabolism. Inability to methylate results in estrogen dominance and increased risk for breast cancer. Methylation capacity can be tested, helping you and your doctor establish a thorough understanding of hormone metabolism, detoxification and nutrient status.

Oxygenate

Cancer cells typically select low-oxygen environments. Increasing your body's oxygenation, through exercise, juicing and decreased intake of acidic foods helps prevent expression of cancer genetics.

Watch Your Toxic Load

Women today are bombarded with information about toxins and their role in cancer. Should we use a different makeup? Should we change household cleaners? The information is overwhelming, ultimately leaving many of us paralyzed.

I personally believe it is impossible to avoid all toxins in our environment. What we can do is manage our toxic load, by choosing organic produce, hormone free meats and decreasing exposure to toxins that we know wreak havoc on hormones: parabens, pthalates and organophosphates. There are many resources to help understand where these chemicals may be coming from, including the Environmental Working Group (EWG, ewg.org) and a survey that I created, "Managing Your Toxic Load." (http://doctortaz.com/toxic/what-is-your-toxic-load/)

De-Stress

Extreme or chronic stress may activate cancer. There are many women that are newly diagnosed after a divorce or a loss. We know the science behind stress; the cortisol swings affect insulin which then triggers inflammation. It is difficult to lead a stress-free life, but having good habits to manage stress can help mitigate the damages. Everyone should have a daily stress reduction plan, even if it is just 15 minutes per day. Exercise, meditation, prayer and connection are all common ways of routinely managing stress. Additionally, scheduling at least a few hours per week of recovery from stress can help to keep stress hormones balanced. Try acupuncture, yoga, massage or tai chi as weekly stress solutions.

In this month of Breast Cancer Awareness, l urge everyone to learn more about cancer prevention. Create your own guide to cancer prevention and live healthy naturally by adopting these seven healthy habits today.

References:

1. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-key-statistics

2. Rosenberg, S. M., Tracy, M. S., Meyer, M. E., Sepucha, K., Gelber, S., Hirshfield-Bartek, J., & ... Partridge, A. H. (2013). Perceptions, Knowledge, and Satisfaction With Contralateral Prophylactic Mastectomy Among Young Women With Breast Cancer. Annals Of Internal Medicine, 159(6), 373-381.

3. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013 Feb 6;105(3):219-36. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djs635. Epub 2013 Jan 24. PMID: 23349252 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

4. Cancer Epidemiol. 2013 Oct;37(5):606-12. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2013.04.006. Epub 2013 May 28.

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