By Dr. Mercola
October is breast cancer awareness month and an ideal time to learn all you can about the steps you can take to prevent the most common cancer affecting women in the developed world.
The information that follows will be much different from what is often spouted from anti-cancer organizations like the American Cancer Society (ACS), as -- unlike ACS -- I have no financial ties to both makers of mammography equipment and cancer drugs.
My advice for cancer prevention is much more straightforward, involving simple lifestyle strategies that virtually everyone has the power to make.
All you need to become empowered to make these cancer-preventive changes is knowledge, and that is what I seek to give you by the time you finish reading this comment … I suggest you not only learn this information for your own benefit, but also share it with other women in your life as well.
Using the Wrong Antiperspirant May Influence Your Breast Cancer Risk
Putting on antiperspirant is a routine part of most people's day, and you may not think much about it. But here's why you should: if you use one containing aluminum, you could be increasing your risk of breast cancer.
Antiperspirants work by clogging, closing, or blocking the pores that release sweat under your arms -- with the active ingredient being aluminum. Not only does this block one of your body's routes for detoxification (releasing toxins via your underarm sweat), but it raises concerns about where these metals are going once you roll them (or spray them) on.
Research, including one study published this year in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, has shown that the aluminum is not only absorbed by your body, but is deposited in your breast tissue and even can be found in nipple aspirate fluid a fluid present in the breast duct tree that mirrors the microenvironment in your breast. Researchers determined that the mean level of aluminum in nipple aspirate fluid was significantly higher in breast cancer-affected women compared to healthy women, which may suggest a role for raised levels of aluminum as a biomarker for identification of women at higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Cancer-Causing Aluminum From Antiperspirant May Collect in Your Breasts
In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, researchers tested breast samples from 17 breast-cancer patients who had undergone mastectomies. The women who used antiperspirants had deposits of aluminum in their outer breast tissue. Concentrations of aluminum were higher in the tissue closest to the underarm than in the central breast.
Why is this a glaring red flag?
Aluminum is not normally found in the human body, so this study was a pretty clear sign that the metal was being absorbed from antiperspirant sprays and roll-ons. Please note that aluminum is typically only found in antiperspirants. If you are using a deodorant-only product it is unlikely to contain aluminum but might contain other chemicals that could be a concern.
Aluminum salts can account for 25 percent of the volume of some antiperspirants, and a review of the common sources of aluminum exposure for humans found that antiperspirant use can significantly increase the amount of aluminum absorbed by your body. According to the review, after a single underarm application of antiperspirant, about .012 percent of the aluminum may be absorbed.
This may not sound like much until you multiply it by one or more times a day for a lifetime, which adds up to massive exposure to aluminum -- a poison that is not supposed to be in your body, and may be more toxic than mercury. Aluminum salts can mimic the hormone estrogen, and chemicals that imitate that hormone are known to increase breast cancer risk. Animal studies have also found that aluminum can cause cancer. Aside from vaccinations, your antiperspirant may be your largest source of exposure to this poisonous metal!
You Need to be Careful with Natural Deodorants, Too
There are many brands of chemical-free, aluminum-free deodorants on the market, and many of these are safe alternatives. And as a general rule, deodorants tend to be less problematic than antiperspirants, as they work by neutralizing the smell of your sweat and by antiseptic action against bacteria, rather than by preventing sweating. As such, some deodorants do not contain any aluminum, but you've got to be careful about this. While many claim to be aluminum-free, they are referring to aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum chloride, aluminum hydroxybromide or aluminum zirconium, which are the types most commonly used in antiperspirants and deodorants.
"Crystal" deodorant stones, which are a popular natural deodorant alternative often used by health-conscious shoppers looking to avoid aluminum, often claim to be aluminum-free, but some actually contain a different type of compound known as an alum, the most common form being potassium alum, also known as potassium aluminum sulfate.
Potassium Alum or Ammonium Alum are natural mineral salts made up of molecules that are too large to be absorbed by your skin. They form a protective layer on your skin that inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria. These deodorants are recommended by many cancer treatment centers, but while this may be a better alternative to most antiperspirants and deodorants on the market, it is not completely aluminum-free.
So be sure, when choosing a natural deodorant alternative, that it truly is made of toxin-free ingredients. Aluminum is just one of them -- you can find other chemical toxins to avoid in your personal care products here. Alternatively, just use plain soap and water. This is what I use, typically in the morning and after I exercise.
Additionally, last year I found an ever more effective strategy and that is to expose your armpits to sunshine. Essentially you tan your armpits. The UVB rays in the sunlight are highly effective germicidal agents and sterilize your armpits in addition to raising your levels of vitamin D sulfate to healthy levels.
Do Bras Cause Breast Cancer?
You might be surprised to hear this, but wearing certain types of bras might not be in your best interest. In fact, if you're in the habit of wearing the most popular styles, you may be setting yourself up for some potentially serious health problems. This includes:
- Tight-Fitting Bras
Many physicians and researchers agree that wearing a tight-fitting bra can cut off lymph drainage, which may contribute to the development of breast cancer because your body will be less able to excrete all the toxins you’re exposed to on a daily basis. Aluminum from antiperspirants is one potentially dangerous source of toxins that can accumulate if your lymph drainage is impaired.
You can avoid some of the improper drainage issues if you wear a bra that is properly fitted, so I suggest you make an appointment with a bra-fitting specialist to help you get the proper fit.
- Underwire Bras
Nearly all underwire bras contain metal underwires coated with plastic. It is the metal that could be problematic for your long-term health.
In his 1975 article, Chinese Lessons For Modern Chiropractors, Dr. George Goodheart – known as “the father of Applied Kinesiology” -- explained what he calls the "Antenna Effect." Essentially, he discovered that by taping a small metal ball over an acupuncture point, you could achieve longer-term stimulation to that point in question. This discovery led to what are now known as AcuAids -- small magnetic patches that are used by thousands of doctors across the world.
However, just like a small metal ball, any metal constantly applied to any given energy channel or point on your body can have the same stimulating effect. Over time, the continued stimulation can cause a subsequent decrease in function of important neuro-lymphatic reflex points located below your breasts.
In addition, the metal wire may act as an antenna attracting electromagnetic fields, which may also increase your risk of breast cancer. Fortunately, you can easily remove the piece of metal wire and replace it with a plastic rod of comparable size, which will provide the support but not simulate the antenna effect.
- Wearing a Bra in General…
There are few solid studies on bra wearing and breast cancer, but one of the most compelling was completed by medical anthropologists Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer -- authors of Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras. The study of over 4,000 women found that women who do not wear bras have a much lower risk of breast cancer:
Their findings included:
When comparing women who wore their bras 24 hours a day with those who did not wear bras at all, there was a 125-fold difference in risk. Based on the results of this study, the link between bras and breast cancer is about three times greater than the link between cigarette smoking and cancer.
- Women who wore their bras 24 hours per day had a 3 out of 4 chance of developing breast cancer
- Women who wore bras more than 12 hour per day, but not to bed, had a 1 out of 7 risk
- Women who wore their bras less than 12 hours per day had a 1 out of 52 risk
- Women who wore bras rarely or never had a 1 out of 168 chance of getting breast cancer
Although this study did not control for other risk factors, which could have skewed their results, other studies have found similar compelling links. For example, a group of Japanese researchers found that wearing a girdle or bra can lower your levels of melatonin by 60 percent. The hormone melatonin is intimately involved with the regulation of your sleep cycles, and numerous studies have shown that melatonin has anti-cancer activities.
Setting the Record Straight About Mammograms
I wouldn't be doing my job if I discussed breast cancer without addressing mammograms -- but this isn't because I want to remind you to get yours. On the contrary, I don't recommend mammograms, despite what you may hear from other medical sources. There are a few major reasons for this:
- There is no solid evidence that mammograms save lives. In fact, research demonstrates that adding an annual mammogram to a careful physical examination of the breasts does not improve breast cancer survival rates over getting the examination alone. This is ESPECIALLY true for women under 50 with no breast cancer risk factors as even conventional experts advise this.
- A mammogram uses ionizing radiation at a relatively high dose, which in and of itself can contribute to the development of breast cancer. Mammograms expose your body to radiation that can be 1,000 times greater than that from a chest x-ray, which we know poses a cancer risk. In fact, research in the journal Radiology, reported that annual mammography screening of 100,000 women from age 40-55, and biennial screening after that to age 74, would cause 86 radiation-induced cancers, including 11 fatalities and 136 life years lost.
- Mammograms carry a first-time false positive rate of up to 6 percent. False positives can lead to expensive repeat screenings, exposing you to even more radiation, and may result in unnecessary invasive procedures including biopsies, unnecessary surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and devastating false diagnoses.
So why does the American Cancer Society advise women age 40 and older to have a screening mammogram every year, and continue to do so for as long as they are in good health, even despite updated guidelines set forth by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which state that women in their 40s should NOT get routine mammograms for early detection of breast cancer?
ACS' role in the promotion of mammography is far from altruistic, as they have numerous ties to the mammography industry itself:
- Five radiologists have served as presidents of ACS
- ACS commonly promotes the interests of mammogram machine and film manufacturers, including Siemens, DuPont, General Electric, Eastman Kodak and Piker
The close ties help explain why ACS commonly runs advertisements urging women to get mammograms, even going so far in one ad as to promise that early detection leads to a cure "nearly 100 percent of the time." But mammograms do not prevent nor cure breast cancer any more than an x-ray of your arm prevents you from breaking it or helping a broken bone heal!
I do recommend breast cancer screening, however, just not mammography.
What Can you do to Prevent Breast Cancer?
Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among U.S. women, and one in eight will develop it during her lifetime. Cancer rates are climbing uncontrollably, and costs are quickly becoming unsustainable, a panel of 37 experts recently reported in The Lancet Oncology.
Unfortunately, while the American Cancer Society widely encourages women to get mammograms, they do not do nearly enough to spread the word about the many ways women can help prevent breast cancer in the first place.
Along with the tips already mentioned above regarding deodorant and bras, a healthy diet, regular physical exercise, and an effective way to manage your emotional health are the cornerstones of just about any cancer prevention program, including breast cancer.
The following lifestyle strategies will also help to further lower your risk:
- Radically reduce your sugar/fructose intake. Normalizing your insulin levels by avoiding sugar and fructose is one of the most powerful physical actions you can take to lower your risk of cancer. Unfortunately, very few oncologists appreciate or apply this knowledge today. The Cancer Centers of America is one of the few exceptions, where strict dietary measures are included in their cancer treatment program. Fructose is especially dangerous, as research shows it actually speeds up cancer growth.
- Optimize your vitamin D level. Ideally it should be over 50 ng/ml, but levels from 60-80 ng/ml will radically reduce your cancer risk. Safe sun exposure is the most effective way to increase your levels, followed by safe tanning beds and then oral vitamin D3 supplementation as a last resort if no other option is available.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. This will come naturally when you begin eating right for your nutritional type and exercising using high-intensity burst-type activities like Peak Fitness. It’s important to lose excess weight because estrogen, a hormone produced in fat tissue, may trigger breast cancer.
- Get plenty of high quality animal-based omega-3 fats, such as those from krill oil. Omega-3 deficiency is a common underlying factor for cancer.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, or limit your drinks to one a day for women.
- Breastfeed exclusively for up to six months. Research shows this will reduce your breast cancer risk.
- Watch out for excessive iron levels. This is actually very common once women stop menstruating. The extra iron actually works as a powerful oxidant, increasing free radicals and raising your risk of cancer. So if you are a post-menopausal woman or have breast cancer you will certainly want to have your Ferritin level drawn. Ferritin is the iron transport protein and should not be above 80. If it is elevated you can simply donate your blood to reduce it.