What is your breast cancer risk?
If you took our Breast Health Assessment, then you have an idea how healthy or unhealthy your breast tissue is. The next step, and the most difficult is to prevent unhealthy tissue from becoming breast cancer.
The biggest difficulty in preventing breast cancer is that most medical practitioners and medical textbooks do not even discuss the function of a healthy breast. This means that prevention is something that is not well understood because the true nature of breast tissue is not well understood.
By reviewing which of the following factors are relevant to you, you can begin to plan how to keep your breasts healthy.
Don't Be the One Out of Eight ....
It is so important for women to understand all the contributing factors to any disease of the breast tissue. That way you can assess your own risk level and reduce it in many different ways.
There have been many studies throughout the world that have turned up a number of factors to consider, all of which have a smaller or larger implication for your future breast health depending on the number of factors that apply to you. It's not one factor that puts you at risk, it's the accumulation of factors, the number of issues that raise your risk.
This is why The Conscious Body Breast Health program helps to reduce your risk by managing and minimizing the factors that are controllable.
So to determine your risk, here are the factors:
Factors to Consider
The density of breast tissue
Chronic breast cysts & fibrosis
The cycle of hormones
Previous chest radiation exposure
Pharmaceutical & chemical exposure
Pregnancy, Contraception & Breast-Feeding history
Hormone replacement therapy
Obesity, physical activity & your diet
Environmental toxins & allergens
The restrictive wearing of bras
Thyroid function & iodine
Dental health & oral pathology
Blood & lymphatic flow
Infection / Immune history
Traumatic events & physical injury
Scroll down to read about
each of these factors...
The Density of Breast Tissue
In breast tissue that is dense and fibrous (as the image on the right), there can be significantly more congestion of circulation, lymphatic drainage, toxic debris and pressure on ducts and glands. Studies have shown that women with denser breast tissue have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, often because breast cancer develops in the ductal area of the breast and then spreads. Women with larger and more fibrous breasts have larger amounts of glandular tissue.
If there is a lot of breast congestion in the upper lobules and extending into the Tail of Spence, then it may not present enough resistance to the spread of malignant cells. Once it does spread, then it is considered invasive moving through blood vessels or the lymphatic system, often meeting no resistance from the immune system due to the density of the tissue and the higher levels of toxins or bacteria that can be trapped there due to chronically poor circulation of blood and lymph.
The Cycle of Hormones
Hormones are the name for many of the chemicals that our body produces in mini-organs known as glands. The entire system of glands is the Endocrine System and the glands have a continual conversation going through our blood stream that controls virtually every function we have. The nervous system may start something, but the glands determine how much and for how long.
The breasts are an integral component of our cycles of estrogen and progesterone, but they also seem to be involved with thyroid function, uterine hormones and even digestive hormones. If the breasts are unhealthy, the part they play in this communication can be misunderstood. The final outcome may be something far different from what was intended, just in the game of "Telephone".
Women who have experienced longer reproductive lives are at a slightly higher risk because they have had a longer "conversation". This would include women who began menstruating at an early age (before 12) or who don’t reach menopause until later in life, such as over 55.
Radiation, EMFs and Electricity
More and more studies are indicating the negative and lasting effects of exposure to radiation, such as in X-rays or radiation therapy, and EMFs (electromagnetic fields). This is especially critical when looking at reproductive health and the risk of illness.
Electromagnetic fields have become a strong concern due to the increasing use of bluetooth and wireless for everything from a child's series of books to a thermometer to the new Smart Electrical Meters. Studies have shown that people who lived under or close to electrical towers had significantly higher incidences of cancer and serious diseases, including fatality rates.
Women who had frequent chest x-rays when young such as was common with a pneumonia or bronchitis diagnosis, or women who were treated with radiation for conditions during adolescence have a greater risk of breast cancer later in life. This is especially true if the breasts were in their developmental phase. It is during development that the breast tissue will be highly absorbant.
This is also true of women who experienced irradiation of the thyroid for hyperactive thyroid, which is still a common conventional treatment today.
Pregnancy, Contraception & Breast-Feeding History
Many studies have shown that women who have their first child after age 30 or have no children run a higher risk of breast cancer. There is information to indicate that this may be due to the gestation period of pregnancy keeping reproductive hormones low for a long period of time, including breast-feeding time.
Another thought is that breast-feeding allows the opening and clearing of the milk ducts in the breasts. This is the only time that these sensitive ductal pathways are utilized and cleansed. Studies have shown that the majority of breast cancer begins in the ducts, so cleansing the ducts during breast-feeding may be a great breast cancer preventative.
The use of oral contraceptives does definitively raise the risk of breast cancer, however once they are stopped the risk declines with time, indicating that the use of oral contraceptives should not continue late in the reproductive life when breast cancer risk is higher. Their use should also be discouraged if there are a number of other factors present that increase the risk. This is especially true if a woman is taking them to regulate her menstrual cycle or to reduce painful PMS symptomology. There are many natural options that will do this effectively without the side effects of oral contraceptive use.
There is a clear link between alcohol consumption and cancer. This seems to be more common in women with a history of liver issues or who consume alcohol daily. Those who have 2 to 5 drinks a day have 1 ½ times the risk compared to women who do not drink alcohol. This may be due to the role of the liver in detoxifying the body, cleansing the blood, maintaining the balance of essential fats and providing the building blocks for your body's creation of vitamin D.
But even more importantly, during and after menopause, the liver takes over the role of hormone production from the ovaries. Along with the adrenal glands, the liver is the determining factor in your levels of post-reproductive hormones. If you are experiencing night sweats or other menopausal symptoms, then your liver needs some attention.
Environmental Toxins & Allergens
There have been many studies done on breast cancer tumors from biopsies to dissections. As recently as June of 2011, Environmental Health News reported that scientists had released information that exposure to chemicals early in life may alter how breast tissue develops, raising the risk of breast cancer and problems with lactation later in life. The concern was that few chemicals used in the marketplace are evaluated for these types of effects. Tumors have contained everything from plastics to heavy metals to many pharmaceuticals that the individual was not even taking.
Breast tissue is predominantly made of fat cells. Many chemicals, hazardous toxins and even our own waste products have fat-binding capability meaning once they are in the human body, they can be attracted to and stored in fat cells. We are most likely absorbing substances our parents and grandparents never were exposed to, such as jet fuel, plastics, flame retardants, pesticides and cadmium from batteries.
This is where allergens come in. All of us are exposed to potential allergens in our environment and in our food. Allergens stimulate the immune system and create a reaction that can congest our pathways of elimination. This stops detoxification and many of the toxins will end up in the adipose tissue of the breasts because the normal detoxification pathways are congested. These toxins also may have overloaded the organs responsible for neutralizing and clearing these toxins.
So if you regularly have allergies, then your pathways of elimination need to be cleared. This is worse when the liver doesn’t have enough sulfur (eggs?), or the kidneys don’t have enough water (hydration) or the lungs are compromised with cigarette smoke. When the levels of these essential enzymes and nutrients is too low, then the toxins cannot be fully metabolized and neutralized, leaving them dangerous, densely stored and deadly. It is the accumulation of chronic allergens and toxins that cause damage to healthy tissue, the formation of cysts and tumors and the inevitability of disease.
Dental Health & Oral Pathology
For many years biologic dentistry has addressed breast cancer through the medium of oral health. In a five-year study of more than 500 participants it was shown that latent bacteria and pathogens in the oral cavity including neurotoxic microorganisms under root canals, abscesses, dental caries and even infections of the jawbone were present in 100% of participants.
The use of antibiotics had little effect, and many of these infective agents had been present for years. In participants with breast cancer, in every single case pathogens were found in the mouth on the same side as the breast cancer. This would also explain many of the cases of recurrence of the cancer even after successful conventional treatment.
Do You Have a History of Infections?
Some studies have indicated that the breast tissue may serve as storage sites for dormant strep or staph bacteria, which may become active during periods of localized immune challenge. This may account for the high incidence of mastitis among women with a history of chronic strep infections. The stagnation of fluid in breast tissue may provide the perfect environment for bacteria causing many women to experience soreness and pain in their breast tissue on a daily basis.
Another concern relating to immunity is the activity of the spleen. If the spleen is dealing with a severe immune challenge over time, which may be true of fibromyalgia, lyme disease or even herpes, mineral salts may precipitate out of solution and into tissue spaces, congesting the lymphatic system and preventing the proper delivery of blood, nutrition and oxygen to sensitive tissues. This can be the cause of fibrocystic breast disease and chronic calcifications.
Another key piece of our immune system is the thymus gland which is located directly between and beneath the breasts, sharing circulation and lymphatic flow with the breast tissue. The thymus is made up of lymphoid tissue, just like the tonsils and the appendix and produces essential T cells.
Traumatic Events, Emotions & Physical Injuries
Traumatic events and the stress hormones they create can not only change the shape and physiological function of the breasts, they can prevent detoxification processes, reduce circulation, block nutrition and mineral delivery to cells. This alters the normal metabolism of the breast tissue not just through the injury, but also from the reaction we have emotionally.
And if the mind reacts strongly to these emotions, then they may create as much damage as the original physical injury. When emotions are related to a particular area, the tissue memory of that area can become a block to circulation, oxygenation, nutrition and lymphatic flow. Mapping the emotional and injurious history of the breasts can pinpoint spots for special attention in the future.
Well there’s not much you can do about your age. You are the age that you are – except that the age of your cells and body tissues may not correspond to your actual chronological age. Oxidation is the biggest factor in the age of your cells. According to accepted research, your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age. This may very well be the result of oxidation and the number of damaged or mutated cells that we have due to oxidative stress.
For this reason, tumors that are found in women less than 45 years of age are only invasive (metastatic) in 1 case in 8. Over 45, 2 in every 3 cases diagnosed is metastatic. In older women immunity is weaker, thymus gland activity is less, liver detoxification ability tends to be more compromised and the number of oxidative-damaged cells is greater, challenging our body’s resources and responses.
What can you do about it? Up the antioxidants in food and supplements.
Despite the recent brouhaha, only about 5-10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary. If you have multiple relatives that have had breast cancer, then it is worth considering genetic testing. In those women that have tested positive for the BRCA1 & BRCA2 genetic mutation, the risk is five times more likely than in a woman without the genetic mutation. But this is not an absolute. There are a lot of aspects about genetic expression that we don't understand, such as how much does environment, lifestyle and diet affect genetic expression.
Many women who have these genetic mutations never develop breast cancer. This may be due to other factors such as how well their body detoxifies, whether they smoke, whether they breast-fed their children or whether they eat a healthy, clean diet.
Chronic Breast Cysts & Fibrosis
There are many chronic issues that can affect breast tissue such as mastitis, benign tumors or cysts and fibrosis. These rarely if ever develop into a cancerous situation, however the more frequent the issues, the higher the risk. More complex issues such as complex fibroadenomas, severe scarring, and ductal hyperplasia are all conditions where cells exhibit rapid and uncontrolled growth spurts which can lead to malignancy if unchecked.
One of the most common breast conditions is cysts. Most cysts contain calcified calcium, chlorine, environmental pesticides, heavy metals and even plastic. Stress can cause excess calcium to be released into the blood, which can then precipitate out of the blood and into tissues without the co-factors needed for absorption into muscles and bones. Most cysts, especially if they are painful, or grow and recede with hormonal fluctuations, are benign.
The cysts to pay attention to are those that do not recede, are not movable, seem to change the shape of the breast or nipple, have grown suddenly and are firm, irregular and not painful.
One of the most common irregularities is estrogen dominance. This is where there are surges of estrogen throughout the cycle that can wreak havoc with a woman's body regulation:
Progesterone is suppressed
Chronic weight gain & tendency to obesity
Chronic overbuilding of breast structure
Irregular or lengthy periods
Clotting, excessive bleeding and severe cramping
Pharmaceutical & Chemical Exposure
We are surrounded by chemicals in our world, but some of the most toxic are pharmaceutical and recreational drugs. You are certainly aware if you are taking a prescription, but you may not be aware of the prescriptions that are in your drinking water, nor will you know the strength or the composition of a recreational drug. Tests have shown various chemicals stored in the adipose tissue of the breasts even when the owner of the breasts hasn't taken those chemicals.
There are also many drugs which were given at various times throughout our health history that now have been shown to increase breast cancer risk. One commonly highlighted is Diethylstilbestrol or DES which was given to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage. Many drugs create side effects that disturb normal hormonal production or healthy liver detoxification ability whether prescription or recreational.
Even chronic antibiotic use can suppress your natural immunity, probiotic balance and ability to prevent infection. Daily use of NSAIDs (aspirin and derivatives) may reduce inflammation, but they also prevent healing from taking place, which leads to chronic degeneration of cells and tissues. Read the side effects of many medications and you will see a warning about increased risk for some form of cancer. You may be relieving your headache, but you may also be setting yourself up for breast cancer down the road.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormones are not just something that we think about on the road to menopause. Many women are taking hormones beginning in their teens to prevent pregnancy, to balance their menstrual cycle, to reduce reproductive symptoms such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts. But more than that, people are taking thyroid hormones, cortisol, DHEA, growth hormone and even testosterone. And when we take hormones, we are not only exposing our reproductive organs, we are exposing our breast tissue as well, which is inherently reactive to hormones. Estrogens and progesterones can fuel breast cancer growth, partly by increasing the density of the breasts. Growth hormone can create changes in cells that are unplanned and unhealthy. Many people are taking cortisone which is a synthetic version of cortisol as an anti-inflammative, but it also prevents the immune system from removing aberrant cells and removing damaged tissue.
So when we talk about hormone replacement, we are talking about any exogenous (not made by your own body) hormone. This includes bio-identical hormones and topical hormonal creams. Significant studies in various countries have shown that any long-term use of hormones, whether topically applied to the skin or taken internally create imbalances which are unpredictable and can contribute to an increase not just in the risk of breast cancer, but may also raise the risk of blood clots, heart disease and stroke. Conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was shown to not only increase a woman's risk of breast cancer, but actually increased her risk of dying from breast cancer.
The truth is that your body knows the difference between your own hormones and those from outside of the body.
Obesity, Physical Activity & Your Diet
Every woman that is severely overweight has an increased breast cancer risk. This isn’t as simple as it seems. The truth is that your body fat stores significant levels of hormones including estrogen. When you go through menopause, the fat tissue becomes a significant contributor of estrogen, maintaining higher than normal levels. This is truer for women that became overweight as adults instead of women who have been overweight their entire lives. Overweight women also tend to have higher blood insulin levels (insulin resistance) which can raise breast cancer risk. Excess fat around the middle, a common sign of adrenal insufficiency, is also an indicator of higher breast cancer risk.
Your daily health habits, especially with exercise and diet are the biggest controllable factors in improving your breast cancer risk. Even walking briskly for 1 to 2.5 hours per week has been shown in studies to reduce the risk by 18%. What more do we need to say?
But when it comes to food, we all fall short from time to time. It's the number of indulgences and the daily decisions about food that create our body profile and our health.
Most studies agree that increasing your intake of green, leafy (cruciferous) vegetables reduces your risk, most likely because of the increased liver detoxification ability that these produce. Detoxification is a body process that can get sidelined when nutrition is not available, such as weak kidney function when sodium is too low. Poor detoxification and chronic nutritional deficiency can compromise immunity, endocrine balance, energy, digestion and emotions, … basically every system relies on detoxification and every one of these compromises can impact your breast health.
When we don’t eat well, we are forcing the body to not only give up non-essential functions such as libido and reproduction, but we also force the body to cannibalize its own tissue for the minerals and essential fatty acids that it needs to do its job. This includes protecting healthy cells from dangerous cells, eliminating cysts before they form and preventing infection.
And we aren't just talking about the food choices you are making. We're also talking about how much of it actually reaches your cells? There are a lot of aspects to your digestion from the amount you chew to the strength of your stomach acid to the amount of bile you make to how regular your bowel movements are. Think of Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory. All the pieces of candy come down the conveyor belt but how many are actually packaged? You can bet the hamburger that went down in four bites gave you about as much protein as swallowing a teaspoonful of beans.
The Restrictive Wearing of Bras
There has been no direct link made between bras and breast cancer, however there have been some very clear indications that restriction of the blood and lymph of the breast tissue make it more difficult to release toxins and to maintain stable cellular structure.
Three separate studies involving thousands of women have shown that wearing bras or restrictive clothing caused a negative impact on the nervous system’s ability to maintain a stable internal body environment while dramatically increasing the incidence of breast cancer. Now part of this may be due to the fact that women with denser and larger breast tissue feel bras are essential and they will often wear wear bras that are too small, too tight and with significant amounts of under wire, all of which are obviously detrimental to healthy breast circulation.
These studies also showed that women who went without bras had about the same incidence of breast cancer as men, while those women who wore a bra 18-24 hours a day had more than 100 times the incidence of breast cancer.
Thyroid Function & Iodine
One supplement that has been studied extensively around the world in its link to breast cancer is iodine. Research has suggested that some breast cancers might be an iodine deficiency disease. For a number of years it has been shown repeatedly that there are iodine receptors in other areas of the body besides the thyroid, meaning that other tissues require iodine for health as much as, if not more than, the thyroid does. The breast tissue is one such area.
The findings showed that iodine receptors resulted in less cell growth (less density of tissue) and caused anti-tumor effects. In fact, iodine caused more cell death than the chemotherapy drug, Fluorouracil. Even in the case of Benign Breast Disease (fibrocystic) women given iodine showed improvement of symptoms in 50% of cases.
This also means that chronically hypothyroid women have a much higher risk of breast cancer simply because of the chronically low iodine levels in such cases. Simply supplementing the thyroid with hormonal prescription drugs such as Thyroxine do not suppo
Blood & Lymphatic Circulation
Just like any body of water, our bodies which are made up of large amounts of water in our blood and lymph, will stagnate without movement. These living waterways not only carry oxygen, hormones and nutrition but as all waterways, they carry away trash, toxins and waste. But to where? To our pathways of elimination, including the colon, the kidneys, the lungs, the skin, our mouths and even in our monthly menstrual cycle. When there is a blockage or congestion in one of these pathways, then other pathways become overburdened. This allows our lymphatic system, our liver and even our sinuses to become congested and symptomatic.
These waterways are the key to our immunity as well. Immunity is not just resistance, it's the vast network of organs, glands, cells, chemicals and microorganisms that patrol the tissues and lymph pathways of the body to identify and resolve challenges to our health. A large portion of the lymphatic system is found within the breast tissue extending into the neck and under the arms.
Carcinogens, plastics, environmental toxins and heavy metals can all precipitate out of solution and end up caught in the congested pathways of the breasts. This is especially true if the breasts are denser or larger because the breast tissue does not receive strong blood flow due to the lack of muscle movement, high volume of fat tissue, muscle tension, scar tissue from surgeries and the restriction caused by bras and tight clothing.
But as we have discussed, the breasts are a living storage facility with theirhigh volume of adipose tissue. To keep the breast tissue fluid moving, we need to be moving. If we don't the body will compensate by growing additional blood vessels in an attempt to maintain blood flow, a process that can be taken over by malignant cells and used for their own reproduction.
It may be possible for perfectly benign cysts to become dangerous simply because the body begins to compensate for lack of blood flow. Some studies have found correlations between an increased visibility of veins on one side of the chest and arm and breast cancer because of the veins enlarging to accommodate excess blood not removed by normal circulation.
Lymphatic flow can be even more stagnant due to the fact that it relies on pressure for its flow as there is no "pump" like the heart. This delicate system is the only way that the breast tissue can rid itself of toxins, pollutants, excess calcium and excess hormones. The lymph carries all of our immune cells within its vessels, so when lymphatic flow is compromised or congested, our lymph nodes enlarge, our breasts become swollen and sore and cysts can form more easily. This may also explain the reason that lymph nodes are generally removed during cancer treatment.
The lymph is one of the most essential pathways of prevention we have.
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This helps to explain a number of cancer studies that have proven that physical injury is a strong precedence for the development of cancer in the exact area of the physical injury. Sarcomas are such a cancer.
But the link we may still not realize exists is the one to our daily thoughts, feelings and our levels of stress. The truth is that our thoughts and feelings are also chemical. Substantial research has shown that fear, grief, worry, anger and even our dreams can create cascades of chemicals that flood our bloodstream and body tissues, causing changes at a cellular level.
They can actually control the shape and function of our breast tissue so that our breasts are responsive to our experiences, our traumas, in fact every moment of our lives. Think of the feeling of attraction. Part of attraction is that our thoughts and feelings can cause our body to physically respond, to create change. How amazing that our breasts can respond to a chill in the same way that they can respond to the promise of sex.
Our breasts can hold a great deal of tissue memory especially for mothers when thinking back to the early days and weeks of their child's life. This means that we actually control our future health through the choices we make today and in a way that is not limited by our genetics.
Located over the heart chakra, the breasts are very connected to our sense of self and our sense of sexuality in a relationship. When we experience trauma in relationships or sexual trauma, the disabling energy of that trauma can become stored at a cellular level within the very tissue at the heart of the trauma. That can then paralyze normal cellular function, disable immunity and inhibit fluid flow. So often cancer will occur following times of severe emotional stress and trauma, often in the very physical location that was at the center of the emotional experience.
Even a sad life event such as grief over the loss of a loved one can create a cascade of negative chemical reactions that will bring us disease and distress.