Observations on breast cancer
Last month, I was interviewed on Fox TV for a story they did on women who were having their breasts removed before they had cancer…to eliminate the risk. Check it out.
Even though they cut 40 minutes of interview down to 3 thirty-second segments (the entire story was only six minutes), they basically presented a “fair and balanced” perspective. My only complaint is that they left the statement that I consider to be the single most important point in the entire story of breast cancer on the cutting room floor; but more on that later. What I really want to talk about in this newsletter is breast cancer in general: what it is, whom it affects, what causes it, and what you can do about it.
And yes men, this is for you too — not necessarily because you’ll get it (although 1 in 100 men do), but because there’s a good chance that someone you care very much about will be affected.
The statistics of breast cancer
- Breast cancer is defined by the presence of abnormal cells growing in breast tissue.
- It’s the most common cancer in women and is second only to lung cancer as the leading cancer killer in women.
- The incidence of breast cancer has been steadily increasing, averaging a 1-2% increase per year since 1960 — although the rate of increase has started to slow down over the last 10 years. Effectively, the incidence of breast cancer has doubled over the last 30 years.
- In 2005, the American Cancer Society estimated that 212,930 new cases of breast cancer would be diagnosed in the United States.
- The older a woman is, the greater her chances of developing breast cancer. Approximately 77% of breast cancer cases occur in women over 50 years of age. The overall odds of developing invasive breast cancer during a woman’s lifetime are approximately 1 in 8 (about 13%).
Observation: Worldwide there are approximately 1 million cases of breast cancer every year. Stunningly (and rarely mentioned by the medical community in the United States), over 20% of those cases occur in the United States — with just 5% of the world’s population. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out the implications of that statistic.
And for those of you in other parts of the world, don’t get too smug. According to Paul Kleihues, MD, Director of IARC and co-editor of the World Cancer Report, commenting on the report, “Once considered a ‘Western’ disease, the Report highlights that more than 50 percent of the world’s cancer burden, in terms of both numbers of cases and deaths, already occurs in developing countries. Cancer has emerged as a major public health problem in developing countries for the first time, matching its effect in industrialized nations. This is a global problem, and it’s growing.”
What is breast cancer?
- The breasts are made of fat, glands, and fibrous connective tissue. They contain several lobes, which are divided into smaller lobules and end in milk glands. Tiny ducts run from the many tiny milk glands, connect together, and end in the nipple.
- These ducts are where 80% of breast cancers occur.
- Breast cancer is either “in situ” (Latin for “in place” — meaning the cancer hasn’t spread), or it has metastasized (spread).
- The most serious cancers are metastatic cancers. The most common place for breast cancer to metastasize is into the lymph nodes under the arm or above the collarbone on the same side as the cancer. Other common sites of breast cancer metastasis are the brain, the bones, and the liver.
The causes — as the medical community understands them
Two genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 are certainly hot right now. (They were actually the focus of the Fox interview in which I appeared.) Yes, women who have a mutation in one of the known breast cancer genes, BRCA1, and a strong family history of the disease, can have up to an 80% risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetime. That’s huge. That means that approximately 8 out of 10 women with this gene mutation AND a strong family history can expect to develop breast cancer. On the other hand, the gene mutation WITHOUT a strong family history results in only a 10% chance of developing breast cancer. That’s an 800% variation in outcome — depending on family history. It’s also worth noting that the odds of getting breast cancer if you have the mutated gene and no family history are actually just about the same as if you didn’t have the bad gene at all.
Observation: Only 5 to 10% of all breast cancer cases are connected with these inherited, mutated genes. Thus, 90 to 95% of cancer develops due to causes other than genes.
The chance of getting breast cancer goes up dramatically as a woman gets older. Nearly 8 out of 10 breast cancers are found in women age 50 or older.
Observation: It may not be just the fact of getting older, but rather what changes occur in most women — but not all women — as the result of “improper” aging.
Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have the disease. The relatives can be from either the mother’s or father’s side of the family. Having a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer pretty much doubles a woman’s risk.
Observation: Family history may not mean what people think it means. It may simply mean shared diet and environment — things that are changeable, even reversible.
Personal history of breast cancer:
A woman with cancer in one breast has a greater chance of getting a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This is different from the first cancer coming back (recurrence) — at least as doctors define it.
Observation: Then again, although it may technically not be the same cancer, it might result from the same cause as the first cancer — if that cause was never addressed during the treatment of the original cancer.
White women are slightly more likely to get breast cancer than are African-American women. But African American women are more likely to die of this cancer. Asian, Hispanic, and American Indian women have a lower risk of getting breast cancer.
Observation:But these statistics change for many women when they move from one country to another and adopt the lifestyle of their newly adopted country.
Earlier breast radiation:
Women who have had radiation treatment to the chest area (as treatment for another cancer) earlier in life have a greatly increased risk of breast cancer.
Observation: Okay, I hope this is not a surprise to anyone. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment are known carcinogens! It shouldn’t be a surprise that they increase the risk of subsequent cancer.
Women who began having periods early (before 12 years of age) or who went through the change of life (menopause) after the age of 55 have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Observation: Do you think it matters that the average age of puberty has dropped from 15-16 to 8-10 in the developed world and that 1 in 100 girls are now showing signs of puberty by the age of 3?
Birth control pills:
Studies have found that women now using birth control pills have a greater risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them. (After 10 years of non-use, the risk goes away.)
Observation: Could this be an indication that hormonal imbalance and/or the use of non-bioidentical hormones might be risk factors?
Hormone replacement therapy:
It has become clear that long-term use (several years or more) of HRT after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer as well as the risk of heart disease, blood clots, and strokes. (Five years after stopping HRT, the breast cancer risk appears to drop back to normal.)
Observation: Another indication that hormonal imbalance and/or the use of non-bioidentical hormones might be risk factors.
Breast-feeding and pregnancy:
One study found that having more children and breast-feeding longer could reduce the risk of breast cancer by half. Women who have not had children, or who had their first child after age 30, have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Being pregnant more than once and at an early age reduces breast cancer risk.
Observation: Non-bioidentical hormones may not be an issue here, but hormonal imbalance certainly still is.
Use of alcohol is clearly linked to a slightly increased risk of getting breast cancer. Women who have 1 drink a day have a very small increased risk. Those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk of women who drink no alcohol.
Observation: Hardly a surprise here. Like pesticides and heavy metals, alcohol damages your liver (the main detoxifying organ in your body) and compromises your immune system (your body’s primary defense against cancer).
Obesity and high-fat diets:
Being overweight is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, especially for post menopausal women.
Observation: Obesity is strongly linked to hormonal imbalance — both cause and effect. Excessive estrogen and low testosterone in older women cause major weight gain. And major sources of fats for people (commercial meat and dairy) have high levels of synthetic estrogens in them, used both to make animals bigger and to prevent disease in modern meat and dairy factories. The net effect is fatter women with higher synthetic estrogen levels.
Studies show that exercise reduces breast cancer risk. The only question is how much exercise is needed. One study found that as little as 1 hour and 15 minutes to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced the risk by 18%.
Observation: Exercise moves lymph and keeps it non-toxic. It is not coincidental that lymphatic cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in the world today.
Putting it All Together
The medical community primarily still recommends versions of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. And yet, despite minor reductions in mortality rates over the last few years, all three approaches are flawed. As for chemotherapy and radiation, these are known carcinogens. They increase your chances of a recurrence of the breast cancer, or of a new and different cancer appearing down the road. As for surgery, it is not necessarily without side effects. And removing breasts, uteruses, or ovaries is not insignificant surgery. There can be complications, and at the very least hormonal balances are thrown off for the rest of your life.
But above and beyond all of these problems, the three medical approaches share one major flaw: they don’t address the cause of the cancer. No one ever got breast cancer because they were suffering from a chemotherapy or radiation deficiency — or because their bodies need surgery on a regular basis to survive. This means whatever temporary respite these approaches may provide, they leave a ticking time bomb in your body that can manifest as another appearance of breast cancer, or liver cancer, or pancreatic cancer, or lymph cancer, etc. If you don’t eliminate the cause, then you really haven’t eliminated the cancer. And that by the way, was the key point in my Fox interview that got left on the cutting room floor.
And now back to where we started, with the Fox interview on prophylactic breast removal. Remember, only women with the BRAC1 gene mutation AND a strong family history can expect to develop breast cancer. The question, then, is: what does family history mean? Most people assume it means genetics, but not necessarily. It also means that you and your family live much of your lives growing up in the same environment, eating the same diet, and following similar lifestyles. For example, according to recent studies, if you grow up on a farm, you, your siblings, and your parents have a 200-400% increased risk of breast cancer. Oftentimes what people term “family history” is, in fact, nothing more than shared environmental and dietary history — and that history you can change.
- Pesticides can be detoxed out of the body
- Estrogen dominance can be balanced out with natural progesterone creme
- Heavy metals can be chelated
That means, theoretically, that even with a bad gene AND a family history, you might be able to drop your odds of getting breast cancer to 10%, or less. When faced with that number, prophylactic removal of breasts may not sound like such a good idea.
And finally, it’s also worth noting that removing your breasts doesn’t get rid of the underlying cause of cancer — just one place that it might manifest. The bad gene is not the cause of the cancer; it merely makes you more susceptible. Bottom line: if you remove your breasts, you may not get breast cancer, but you haven’t changed your odds of getting uterine cancer, liver cancer, lymph cancer, etc. — and removing all of those organs is not an option. Put simply, prophylactic surgery for cancer is ultimately a dead end, although it may indeed provide some respite for women at high risk of certain cancers who are unable to make appropriate changes in their diets and environments..
The cause of cancer
So what is the cause of breast cancer, of all cancers?
Cancer is fundamentally a disease of the immune system. What do I mean by that? Quite simply, in your body, as part of the normal metabolic process, you produce anywhere from a few hundred to as many as 10,000 cancerous cells each and every day of your life.
So why doesn’t everybody get cancer? Because your immune system has the ability to recognize each and every one of those aberrant cells and remove them from your body. That’s what a healthy immune system does.
Then why do some people get cancer? Because one of three things happens (and more often than not all three together):
- You expose yourself to toxins and outside influences (such as heavy metals, radiation, rancid fats, viruses, bacteria, parasites, etc.) that dramatically increase the number of cancerous cells your body produces so that not even a healthy immune system can handle the load.
- You compromise your immune system to the point that it can no longer handle all of the cancerous cells your body produces—thus allowing some of them to take root and establish themselves.
- Circulation (in the broad sense) is impeded—thus leading to both 1 and 2 above.
We can see the self-referential evidence of this in all of the observations made throughout this newsletter. For example:
- Exposure to pesticides on farms compromising immune systems and stimulating increased production of aberrant cells.
- Exposure to high levels of synthetic estrogen stimulating production of aberrant cells
- Sedentary lifestyle leading to stagnant lymph and a compromised immune system.
Do genes such as BRAC1 contribute? Absolutely, but only so far as the immune system allows them to. For more information check out my talk: Cancer, the Big Lie (audio file).
So what can you do about it?
It’s important to remember, as I stated above, that every single day of your life your body produces anywhere from a few hundred to as many as 10,000 cancerous cells as part of its normal metabolic processes. That means no one, by definition, can be cancer free, ever. The only question is: can your body deal with those cells and prevent them from taking root and multiplying? That’s it, pure and simple.
Any program that reinforces your body in that agenda is good and will improve your odds dramatically. Any program that undermines it is “questionable.” Be assured that chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery (at least in their current forms) will someday be considered a barbaric remnant of our medical past, like doctors not washing their hands before surgery or using mercury to treat syphilis.
So, what to do?
Do everything. Do it all at once. Do it intensively. And repeat it. And once you have the cancer on the run, keep doing it until there is no sign of the cancer for at least 6 months. By everything, what do I mean?