This month, instead of “breast cancer awareness,” I want to talk about breast cancer prevention. Why? Well, the numbers are scary, but no scarier than this line from the CDC on breast cancer: “…the most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity.” Or that it’s the most common cause of cancer death among Hispanic women, and 2nd most common among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women. Unfortunately, charities that look for a treatment for breast cancer are too often tainted by pinkwashing– promoting products that cause cancer.
While it’s all well and good to look for a cure, my hope for my loved ones and myself is that we can avoid needing a cure. That’s why breast cancer prevention is important in this day and age. How can we cure something when we don’t know the cause? Fortunately, modern day science is starting to answer the question of what causes breast cancer. In the last decade, it turns out there has been plenty of research on one key factor: environment.
Breast Cancer Prevention Partners Looks At The Science
Put more precisely, our toxic environments are contributing to our sky rocketing breast cancer rates. How do we know this? There is one group that has taken the time and effort to comb through all the data. Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) has been working on researching the science for 15 years and publishing a report called “The State of the Evidence.” These reports are comprehensive review of breast cancer research and sort through their findings.
State of the Evidence 2017 was released in September, 2017 (their last journal-published review was in 2009). I spoke with Dr. Janet Gray, Ph.D., Professor and Director of Science, Technology and Society, Vassar College, the co-chair of BCPP’s Science Advisory Panel, a member of the team that worked on the report. Dr. Gray told me that hundreds of papers have been published since the 2009 report and that many support a link between environmental toxins and breast cancer. These scientists pull together their best understanding of the existing science.
The Current Science on Breast Cancer Causes
A lot of research has been done in the last 10 years on whether certain toxins are linked to breast cancer, particularly endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs). Exposure to EDCs, even – or particularly – at low doses can be harmful, especially to developing fetuses, newborns and babies. These compounds can “mimic, antagonize or complexly disrupt the hormonal pathways responsible for breast development.”
According to BCPP, current scientific literature supports the hypothesis that this type of early exposure can increase risk of developing breast cancer in adulthood. For EDCs, there is “incredible evidence” in human, animal and other laboratory studies. In fact, my own research on EDCs for Mamavation over the years has unearthed a HOST of additional problems linked to them, including reproductive issues and other in utero problems for developing babies.
Dr. Gray also shared the generational impact of in utero exposure. For example, DES, a drug used in the 1960s and 1970s and given to pregnant women, showed a very strong link to breast cancer not just for female babies, but for their daughters as well. Research also shows DDT exposure increases the risk of breast cancer in women and their daughters.
While adults are not safe from these chemicals, Dr. Gray pointed out that early exposure through childhood increased breast cancer in adults, as many animal studies have demonstrated.
The Surprising Breast Cancer Connection
Another interesting factor linked to breast cancer that Dr. Gray shared was “light at night.” This surprised me! I’m not talking about blue light or smartphone exposure, but the very fact that some people are more frequently exposed to electric light and NOT enough sunlight. Women shift workers, particularly those with long term shift jobs, have a high level of cancer, especially breast cancer.
In general, electric and other bright lights can suppress your body’s creation of melatonin. Melatonin plays a role in suppressing cancer-inducing chemicals. And just think: there is light everywhere, all the time if you live in a city.
Breast Cancer and Corporate Influence
As I discussed with Dr. Gray, corporate America often comes up with solutions that are bad or worse. Take the example of “BPA free” items. While many companies have removed BPA, a known endocrine disruptor, many have replaced it with something far worse: BPS or BPF. The EPA, as I’ve long said, has devastated any protections and this is only getting worse, especially with the current administration. The American Chemistry Council is a very powerful lobby in Washington.
That said, with growing consumer awareness and an expanding organic, GMO free and natural products market, businesses are starting to catch on to the importance of creating clean products for a growing market.
Breast Cancer Prevention: Steps to Take
This is scary stuff, since we know that we are exposed to toxic chemicals regularly, not to mention electric light!
So how do we protect ourselves? Is breast cancer prevention even possible today? Still, I believe, as Dr. Gray does, that we need to have hope for our future. While it’s impossible to avoid all exposure to cancer causing contaminants, there are some steps you can take:
- Clean Food & Drink. Reduce your exposure to other carcinogens and build your immune system by eating right, keeping your gut bacteria in balance, and choosing whole and organic foods and filtered water as much as possible.
- Keep Day To Night Hours. Whenever possibly, try to be up in the daylight and turn off lights after the sun goes down as much as possible. You can also get darkening shades to drown out streetlights or that neighbor with the LED Christmas lights.
- Share What You Know. Now that you know this, there may be a woman in your life who needs to know too!
- Vote Carefully. As Dr. Gray reminded me, the real power currently is in the state, not federal, government to help solve this. States like California are hopefully leading the way in making certain chemicals illegal or requiring labeling. Know where your members of Congress stand on toxic chemicals and if they have links to the American Chemistry Council or other chemicals companies and lobbies.
- Start a Movement. You can – and should – get together with your neighbors and other locals to help protect your community. Start going to community board meetings to learn about the chemicals affecting your neighborhood and what you can do about them.
- Buy Nontoxic Products. Toxins are found in everything from beds and flooring to our cosmetics and bath products. Deodorants can be especially troubling for their proximity to our lymph notes when we use them. Find clean solutions.
- Support BCPP. Other cancer charities focus on events and awareness, even while promoting products that are linked to breast cancer. BCPP is actively working on our behalf to reduce chemicals in our nation, by lobbying, persuading brands to clean up, creating reports and more. See their full list of accomplishments.
Controversial Breast Cancer Prevention Methods
Ok, these are not supported by heavy research, but they are not harmful if you choose to do so:
- Dry Brushing. While there may be no peer-reviewed studies on this, many say that dry brushing can stimulate your lymphatic system. And when done properly, it’s certainly good for your skin, so there’s no harm in adding this to your routine. Check out this “how to” from Wellness Mama.
- Vitamin D. This is another controversial topic, but I felt I needed to add it especially in light of the findings about electric light and breast cancer. Fifteen minutes a day of actual sunshine, without sunscreen, is the best way to get it.
- Replace Mammograms with Thermography. The safety of mammograms is hotly debated and you should do your own due diligence on them. In fact, the Time Magazine published an article, “It’s Time to End Mammograms, Some Experts Say” in December, 2017. I’m not saying avoid them, but they may expose you to radiation. Thermography provides an alternative form of breast cancer screening, allowing you to reduce (although possibly not eliminate) mammograms. You should do everything you can to ensure that you do not have breast cancer, like periodic self-examination, knowing the warnings signs and regular checkups.
- Reduce Stress and Fear. Stress is a known contributor to all kinds of illnesses. Today, I just interviewed a breast cancer survivor who went through chemo and was much sicker when she was anxious and nervous than when she was calmer. It’s important to follow this tip even if you get sick.
- Lose The Underwire. Can underwire bras restrict lymphatic activity? This idea has been around a long time and is not scientifically supported as far as I know. That said, underwire bras serve no great purpose, and you can find a supportive bra without the wire. Make sure you are wearing one that fits properly, provides adequate support and allows you to move comfortably.
- Do a Detox Cleanse. There are lots of solutions for removing the toxins that exist in your body right now, such as heavy metals. For example, a highly qualified biological dentist can remove your mercury amalgams. This is not without risk so do your research and plenty of due diligence before attempting this or any other intensive detox plan.
What Can You Do Right Now
If you want to help, I recommend you support Breast Cancer Prevention Partners and the work they do in research, science and spreading the word about breast cancer prevention. I also recommend switching to a natural deodorant that is free of aluminum, parabens and other toxic chemicals.
A future without breast cancer is possible, I believe, but only if we spread the word.