THE BLOG
03/18/2011 11:28 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Breast Cancer Prevention: A Huge Missed Opportunity

All women are at risk for breast cancer. And all women and girls can take steps in their everyday lives to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer -- even the healthiest women with no family or personal history of the disease.

Breastcancer.org, in partnership with Stonyfield Farm, is launching a new initiative to address prevention -- a huge missed opportunity in the current breast cancer awareness movement. This initiative, called Think Pink, Live Green: Protect Your Breast Health, is a public health campaign that gives women and girls a step by step guide to reducing their risk of breast cancer by making healthy lifestyle choices and limiting their environmental exposures.

Correcting major myths is a critical first step. It's just not true that all breast cancers run in families. Only about 10 percent of cases are associated with an inherited abnormal breast cancer gene (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2). Plus, these abnormal genes only make an individual prone to breast cancer; they don't cause cancer on their own. In order for breast cancer to start, other genetic changes have to occur. It is often the wear and tear of living, heavily influenced by lifestyle and environmental risk factors, can trigger the development of breast cancer.

What you eat, drink, and breathe, as well as the supplements and medicines you take, and the products you use, can become the building blocks -- the foundation -- of your future breast health. These ingredients and other exposures also influence the daily operations of your breast cells and can increase your future risk of breast cancer. And, when you consider all the chemicals, pesticides, and other contaminants in just our food supply alone -- it's no wonder that breast cancer has become the most common cancer to affect women.

Modern life can be dangerous for our breasts -- organs that are uniquely vulnerable to the development of cancer. During the unusually long period of breast development, breast cells are extra sensitive to new mutations. (It takes about 10 years for breasts to form and less than one year for other organs.) Then, during the time between breast formation and the first full-term pregnancy, breast cells remain highly active and immature, and primed to respond to estrogen, other hormones, and a full range of environmental pollutants. Too much stimulation over an extended period of time can trigger and accelerate abnormal breast cell growth -- including cancer. Other realities of modern life can further increase breast cancer risk. Here are just a few examples of risk factors that represent the interplay between the environments outside and inside the body:

The onset of puberty is occurring earlier and earlier. Around 1800 the age of puberty was about age 17 and at the turn of the next century, it was age 14. Today it's around age 10. Earlier puberty leads to earlier breast formation. As soon as the breasts are made, they are ready to respond to a broad range of chemicals exposures.

More women are missing the protective effects of pregnancy and breastfeeding, by postponing or never experiencing a full-term pregnancy, or by not breastfeeding. Many women and girls take pharmaceutical hormones, hormone replacement therapy and contraceptive agents, for extended periods of time. Both are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Obesity is epidemic. Two-thirds of American women are overweight or obese. Extra fat marinates breast cells in extra hormones; fat also collects and stores many pollutants. Obesity also is associated with chronic inflammation that can weaken the immune system's ability to repair the wear and tear of everyday living.

This combination of well-established risk factors and emerging serious concerns should make us all want to take immediate action. Too much is at stake. There are over 3 billion women and girls in the world and 1 in 8 are projected to get breast cancer over their lifetimes. And that doesn't include all of the loved ones who are instantly affected when a diagnosis strikes.

We believe that prevention is the best cure. The good news is that changing your life can help reduce you risk of breast cancer. Our bodies have the power to forgive, repair and rebound once healthy steps are taken. These steps will yield the greatest breast cancer prevention benefit during the years of breast development.

Breastcancer.org and Stonyfield Farm are proud to provide you with practical, ready-to-use information about organic living, including the Think Pink, Live Green: Protect Your Breast Health 31-page booklet, which is available at: Breastcancer.org.