Breast Cancer Prevention Using Functional Medicine
Breast cancer prevention involves learning your risk factors, being aware of early signs and symptoms, and optimizing diet and lifestyle actions to stay proactive about hormone balance and cellular health.
Functional and Integrative therapies can help you identify your individual risk level, provide insight about which inherited genes predispose you to breast cancer, and give you recommendations for breast healthy foods, behaviors, and screening tools.
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
While a small portion of breast cancer risk is genetic, risk factors for breast cancer include hormone balance throughout life, especially estrogen, and several dietary and lifestyle factors.
Behaviors such as alcohol use, smoking, and a poor diet can increase your risk of breast cancer, while behaviors like eating a nutrient-dense diet high in certain nutrients, and exercising can mediate breast cancer risk. Read on to learn how these risks apply to you and how you can practice breast cancer prevention in your own life.
Estrogen Dominance and Breast Cancer Prevention
There’s one common risk factor that every woman shares concerning breast cancer risk: estrogen. High exposure to estrogen, such as with estrogen dominance has been shown to increase breast cancer risk. How well a woman’s body metabolizes and eliminates estrogen can be a crucial factor for not only breast cancer, but other reproductive cancers as well.
Estrogen metabolism in the liver creates estrogen metabolites 2-, 4-, and 16-hydroxyestrone (OEH1). This is basically a measure of how estrogen interacts with cells in your body. Two is best, and 4 and 16 are less favorable. 16OEH1 has been shown to promote estrogen-sensitive cancer cells, like those that cause breast cancer (1).
Diet and lifestyle modifications do exist to promote favorable estrogen metabolites. Keep reading to find out which nutrients support estrogen metabolism and breast health.
If you’d like to know how your body is metabolizing estrogen, get your estrogen levels tested. At CentreSpringMD we offer hormone testing for estrogen, and other important hormones.
Genetics and Breast Cancer Risk
Less than 15% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer also have a family member with breast cancer, but there are still relevant genetic components to breast cancer.
Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common genetic risks for breast cancer. On average, women with a BRCA1 mutation have a 55-65% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. For women with a BRCA2 mutation, the risk is 45%. An increased ovarian cancer risk is also associated with these changes (2).
About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process, diet, and lifestyle in general, rather than inherited mutations.
It is estimated that one in eight women, or approximately 12%, will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
It’s important to note that less than 10% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a BRCA mutation, and with early detection, the vast majority of breast cancer cases can be successfully treated. This remains true even for people who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
When to Get a Screening
According to the CDC (3):
- Women aged 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
- Women aged 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
While the recommended age for clinical breast cancer screening may not begin until 40, it’s best practice to perform a self-exam at home and become familiar with the way your breasts feel, especially during different times of the month when hormone fluctuations can cause changes.
As women age, breast tissue naturally becomes more “fibrous” which is why breast cancer screenings with a qualified integrative practitioner are of the utmost importance in detecting breast cancer early.
The Best Types of Breast Cancer Screening
Since breast cancer generally doesn’t present with obvious symptoms, screening tools are the most effective way to detect breast cancer as early as possible.
Self-exam: Performed at home by assessing the physical appearance, feel, and overall condition of the breasts. Is not a reliable standalone method for detecting breast cancer, but is least invasive, is easy to perform, and can be performed often.
Mammogram: Performed in your doctor’s office, low-energy x-rays sent through breast tissue aid in the early detection of potentially cancerous breast tissue. Is a reliable method of early detection. Patients report some pain, and the accompanied x-ray exposure is a complaint for patients who receive mammograms.
Thermography: An alternative to uncomfortable and more invasive screening tools, thermography detects inflammation and abnormal cellular activity without the use of radiation. Infrared imaging is obtained without any bodily contact and provides additional and complementary data your integrative doctor will use to provide the best care for your needs.
Curious about thermography? Find out how thermography can help you.
Early Symptoms of Breast Cancer
A lump in the breast is often the most widely recognized breast cancer sign, but there are several other early signs that could indicate changes in the breast or breast cancer (4).
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer:
- Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
- Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
- Breast or nipple pain.
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking or thickened.
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
Breast cancer signs and symptoms can vary, so it’s best to contact your integrative medicine doctor if you notice any abnormal change in your breasts, or discomfort in your chest or underarm area.
Functional Medicine and Breast Cancer Prevention
Multiple types of cancers, including breast and other reproductive cancers can be affected by poor diet and lifestyle choices. Certain lifestyle risks, like smoking and consuming alcohol have been shown to increase cancer risk by as much as 50%.
Optimizing the following can help support your cellular, hormonal, and overall health.
Environmental endocrine disruptor exposure can result in increased accumulation of xenoestrogens, which can negatively impact hormone balance and natural detox pathways. Support healthy estrogen detoxification by reducing your environmental exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds like BPA, glyphosate, and phthalates.
These compounds are frequently found in bodycare products and in food and personal care items.
Supporting your liver is crucial for healthy estrogen metabolism, as it’s your body’s primary detox organ.
Food for Breast Health
Vegetables in the Brassica family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower) are high in compounds which support healthy estrogen metabolites in the liver. These veggies contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol which is converted to another friendly compound called DIM. Together, indole-3-carbinol and DIM support cellular health and healthy estrogen metabolism and elimination (5).
Other foods for breast cancer prevention include ground flaxseeds, omega-3 fatty acids from fish, and nutrient-dense vegetables (6)(7).
Smoking and Breast Cancer
If you smoke, it’s not too late to quit to have a positive impact on breast cancer health. But smoking does increase your risk of breast cancer, in addition to other chronic diseases like cardiovascular and lung disease.
Regular, moderate exercise supports cellular health and the cellular process of autophagy, which is the recycle and cleanup of old or damaged cells.
Extensive data have shown that moderate alcohol consumption (1-2 drinks per day for a woman) can increase breast cancer risk 30-50% (8).
Prevention is Personal
When navigating breast health, it’s important to remember that no two individuals will be exactly the same, and personalized care will help you prioritize your overall health and breast cancer prevention strategies.
There is no singular thing that prevents breast cancer, but early detection using innovative diagnostic screening tools, nutrition, and lifestyle all play a synergistic role in breast cancer prevention.
Learn more about holistic and integrative health at CentreSpringMD, and how our providers can help you optimize your experience whether you’re just learning about breast cancer prevention, or if you’re in search of complementary therapies for breast cancer treatment.