The latest figures published by Cancer Research UK show a total of 47,700 women were diagnosed in 2008, over 5,000 more than a decade earlier, a rise of 3.5 per cent. The numbers affected by the disease have doubled since 1971 and the lifetime risk has risen to one in eight, from one in nine a decade ago. (link) In the US and in Canada the risks are about the same - between one in 8 and 9 and the overall increase is the same too.
This cannot be a matter of genes or chance. Only about 5-10% are directly linked to genes. Something has changed in how we live to drive this. If we know what are the drivers, we can be at choice to change how we live to reduce our risk. We can turn back the clock.
But are our doctors working to help us do this?
I have yet to meet a woman who tells me that her doctor is helping her avoid breast cancer. Public Health focuses on screening. Research is ALL about the CURE. I never see anything about research into how to avoid it. I have not met a woman who told me, when she was disgnosed, that the reasons why she might have cancer were discussed. All have told me that the discussion was focused entirely on treatment options. I have not met a woman who, once teatment was over, was advised about the future risks. The sole discussion was about the importance of taking Tamoxifen.
So what do we know that we can use to reduce the risks?
One pathway is becoming clear and that is the role of estrogen. Tamoxifen acts to reduce the amount of estrogen. Your doctor will be forceful in prescribing this but will almost never talk to you about why you may be doing things that drive up high levels of estrogen.
The role of estrogen was highlighted in the recent scare about Hormone Replacement Therapy. HRT pushes up your estrogen levels. Here is the clue:
"From 1999 to 2005, breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. decreased by about 2% per year. The decrease was seen only in women aged 50 and older. One theory is that this decrease was partially due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by women after the results of a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative were published in 2002. These results suggested a connection between HRT and increased breast cancer risk."
It seems that high levels of estrogen are linked. So what drives high levels of estrogen?
- The pill - it is only in the last 50 years that women have been taking the pill for 20 years or more
- Soy - Soy can boost estrogen - it is only in the last 50 years that many women have used alot of soy - sales have climbed from $300 million in 1992 to over $4 billion in 2008 - it was thought to be a healthy alternative but it is novel and may be worth removing from your diet.
- Women who are obese are much more at risk. Body fat drives high levels of estrogen. We get fat by a failing metabolic system that is mainly driven by a high carb low animal fat diet. This has become the main diet over the last 50 years
- Glucose is what feeds cells, cancer cells need a lot of glucose. A high "sugar" diet helps your cancer cells get ahead.
- Most Americans are sleep deprived. Women more than men. Sleep is not just a rest but a major healing reset
- Activity sets up a strong immune system, most of us are totally sedentary. We sit on average for 14 hours a day
- High levels of Vitamin D seem to reduce the risks (link) - A 2011 meta-analysis by Garland and colleagues estimated that a serum level of 50 ng/ml is associated with 50% lower risk of breast cancer. While there are some variations in absorption, those who consume 4000 IU per day of vitamin D from food or a supplement normally would reach a serum level of 50 ng/ml.
Reducing levels of estrogen and boosting our immune system is surely the way to go? I know this is not easy though. Diet is a major part of this. So can you bring yourself to change this? Being on the pill is so easy. Can you change this?
So please let me say this as a husband who has stood by his wife go through the hell of a diagnosis and the full on treatment. I promise you, you would not wish this on your worst enemy. I promise you that changing how you eat. Going off the pill. Going to bed early. Taking Vitamin D. Being more active are a small price to pay to reduce your risks.
Please don't wait for the cure. Please take charge of your own health. You can learn more about how to live a life that will help you be more healthy here.