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Prevention of Early or Returning Breast Cancer

How To Prevent Early and Metastatic Breast Cancer  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

      – Benjamin Franklin

This time of year when I see professional football team players wearing pink, I feel women aren’t getting the whole message.  Our focus on breast cancer awareness needs to broaden to include breast cancer prevention.   It’s not just about finding cancer; it’s about preventing cancer.  Both strategies are essential for saving lives.  If you want to learn about and possibly support organizations that are investigating causes and prevention of breast cancer, go to

As a breast cancer survivor, a clinician, and a health coach, I am sharing my personal top ten lifestyle strategies for prevention of  breast cancer and or the recurrence of breast cancer years later.

In my coaching practice, I offer my clients guidance in the areas lifestyle habits and self care.  For many breast cancer survivors, anti cancer lifestyle changes may compliment traditional medical treatment and improve outcomes in the areas of quality of life and recurrence.

I’ve organized my recommendations into three risk management areas:

  • Exterior Environment– avoidance of toxins in our medications, food, water, and kitchen.
  • Interior Environment-stress management, weight management, nutrition, and exercise.
  • Inherited Environment– positive family history for breast cancer and density of breasts.

Exterior Environment. 

Breasts accumulate more toxins than any other body organ and these toxins have an estrogenic effect that interferes with estrogen metabolism and increases risk for breast cancer. Women can limit the amount of toxins that affect their breast tissue with the following strategies.

1. Pesticides.   Pesticides are hormone interrupters. Hormone interrupters have estrogenic properties, which interfere with the balance of hormones in breast tissue.  Most of our conventional grown fruits and vegetables are contaminated with a large number of pesticides in the escalating war against weeds and pests.  At minimum it is worth avoiding EWs “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables.  Dirty dozen refers to 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the highest quantities of pesticides.  The list is surprising as most of the dirty dozen are fruits and vegetables thought of as healthy.  You can find the list of the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen in this link to a previous blog I wrote. If you buy organic fruits and vegetables you can avoid most pesticides but not all.

2. Plastics.  Plastics are hormone interrupters and have been implicated into the development of breast cancer.  Avoid beverages and food in plastic bottles and cans that are lined with plastic.  The warmer or longer food or beverages sit in plastic, the more plastic is leached into the food.    Don’t microwave food in plastic containers or plastic wrap as the heat drives the plastic into your food.  Don’t store food in plastic; instead use glassware or cardboard storage containers.  Next time on a hot day when you see a truck full of beverages in plastic bottle, remember the heat is driving the plastic into the beverages.

2. Water.  Drink water from your tap or buy in glass bottles.  Filter your tap water with a quality carbon water filter or in home reverse osmosis water filter at home.

3. Animal fats and products.  Industrial food science uses drugs and hormones to promote the rapid growth and weight gain of domestic livestock for human consumption.  In addition more chemicals and preservatives are added to processed meat including bacon, and deli meats.  Dairy cows are given antibiotics and hormones to stimulate milk production.  Decreasing your consumption of meat and dairy products reduces exposure to breast toxins.  Safer alternatives include organic, grass fed game or livestock.

4. Drugs.  Over time hormone drugs have a direct effect on breast tissue and increase the risk for breast cancer.  Limit the use of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy to no more than 5 years.  70% of all breast cancer is estrogen receptor positive.  Use alternative methods for birth control.  Using hormone replacement therapy to suppress hot flashes and night sweats increases the risk of both breast cancer and uterine cancer.  Ask your doctor about other alternative non hormonal strategies to try for your symptoms.

5. Alcohol.  Limit alcohol consumption.  Increased alcohol consumption is associated with breast cancer.  Women who drink two or more alcoholic drinks a day have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who don’t drink.  When you drink alcohol, it can reduce your liver’s ability to metabolize estrogen.  Alcohol interfere’s with the liver’s job to reduce the potentcy of hormones and eliminate from your body.  If you chose to drink, limit to no more than one drink per day.

Interior Environment

Interior environment includes stress management, exercise, and weight management.

6. Stress management.  We live in a world of complexity and uncertainty, a transaction dense stew of never ending tasks.  Most women who develop breast cancer can identify a significant source of stress prior to their diagnosis. To offset this risk, insist on connecting to your personal values as they relate to people, personal causes, animals and nature.  Find ways to spend time in what you define as transformative geography- green spaces; parks, beaches, mountains, lakes, and rivers.  No matter how busy or how overwhelmed you feel, seek people and places that restore your sense of well-being.  Consider trying mindfulness meditation and adopt the Jon Kabat-Zinn’s 7 attributes of living mindfully.

7. Exercise. Studies have shown for women with stage 1 to 3 breast cancer any amount of exercise above 3 hours of walking at a moderate pace through out the week had a beneficial effect on survival.  In women with the highest exercise activity levels, breast cancer mortality and recurrence were reduced between 26- 40% than the lowest activity groups of breast cancer survivors.  There are many studies showing even if exercise begins after the diagnosis of breast cancer, there is a significant lower risk of death with regular, sustained exercise. 

Moderate intensity aerobic exercise provides the most benefit in terms of prognosis.  Start your own walking program building up to a moderate pace.  Consider cross training by adding other kinds of aerobic activities that include biking, hiking, and or aerobic classes.

For those at risk for bone density loss from breast cancer medications, weight-bearing exercise can help maintain healthy bones.   Strength training, yoga, tai chi, and Pilates all enhance bone health.

8. Weight management   Many studies show a higher incidence of breast cancer as well as breast cancer recurrence in women who are over weight or obese.  Fat tissue is a major source of estrogen.   Start a reasonable weight management program that begins first with weight maintenance.  Gradually change your eating habits to encourage weight loss through consuming more whole plant based foods, less processed foods and incorporate mindful eating to change the amount and type of food in your daily diet. 

In my experience crash diets to lose weight don’t work long term.  A gradual reduction in the amount and types of food consumed does result in a gradual sustainable weight loss.

Inherited Environment

Our genes determine our inherited risk for breast cancer as well as the density of our breasts.  We know if there is a family history of breast cancer or if a woman has dense breasts, there is a higher incidence of breast cancer. 

9. Dense Breasts.  If you have dense breasts, you are at higher risk to develop breast cancer statistically and, as important, breast cancer tumors are more difficult to see with standard mammography.  Talk with your physician and radiologist about additional screening tools including ultrasounds, 3D mammography or an MRI especially if you have a questionable finding.  A good resource to learn more about dense breast tissue is

10. Positive Family History of Breast Cancer.

Consult with your physician to discuss early screening for breast cancer as well as BRCA genetic testing.  Remember only 10% of those who develop breast cancer have a positive family history, so routine mammograms and breast self exams are important for all women.

So this month, wear pink and share these tips with mothers, sisters and friends.  Spend time walking in a park or in the woods.  Connect with someone who is important to you.  Try a new movement class or mind body class like yoga or Pilates.

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