By Dr. Mercola
Dr. Christine Horner began her career as a board certified general- and plastic surgeon, performing breast reconstructive surgeries on women who'd had full mastectomies due to breast cancer.
In this interview, she shares her extensive knowledge about breast cancer—its causes and its cures, and the pros and cons of various screening methods.
Her interest in breast cancer began while she was still in college, when her mother developed the disease.
Thirteen years later, when her mother's cancer returned, Dr. Horner became very active with the American Cancer Society.
For a time, she was a vice-president and the Kentucky state spokesperson for the American Cancer Society on breast cancer issues.
"We were trained to say that we don't know what causes breast cancer and we have no known cures; the best things that women can do are breast exams and mammograms," she says.
"… In my practice, I was watching women get younger and younger when I was doing breast reconstruction on them.
Finally, I was doing women in their 20s. I thought something is way wrong with this picture." I thought why don't we just look through the medical literature and see if there's anything that research shows that women can do, that's within our control that will lower our risks. I had no idea what I was going to find… But when I looked, I instantly found thousands of studies that show exactly why we have a cancer epidemic…"
What's Causing the Cancer Epidemic?
What Dr. Horner discovered was that there are a number of habits we've stopped doing in our modern culture that are highly protective. We've dramatically altered our diets—shunning our native, whole-foods cuisine for highly processed fare—and engage in very little physical activity, for example.
"We're telling women that all they can do is mammogram [screening], and it's extremely disempowering," Dr. Horner says. "You feel like you have no control over it. But if you look at epidemiological studies… we know that people that live in Asia have a very low incidence of breast cancer or prostate cancer… [W]e have the studies showing that if an Asian woman moves to the United States and adopts our American diet and lifestyle, within one generation her risk will match that of an American woman's. It's like "Hello? What are we doing or not doing that they're doing or not doing that's making such a big difference? "
Dr. Horner was eventually introduced to the system of Ayurvedic medicine, and the more she learned about it, the more she felt there were answers therein that needed to be shared with people on a wider scale.
'[T]here are so many really simple things people can do that can have a dramatic effect on their health," she says. "Basically, the more you learn about natural medicine, the more you'll realize that we're just telling our patients lies– not on purpose, but from what we have been taught from the pharmaceutical companies and so forth."
She pitched the idea to television stations in Cincinnati to let her talk about complementary and alternative medicine, and ended up being the first syndicated segment on the news related to complementary and alternative medicine, which ran from 1999 through 2002. At that point, she decided to quit her surgery practice to focus on teaching people how to become and stay healthy naturally, and wrote the book: Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner's Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer, which contains all-natural approaches for protecting against and treating breast cancer. Dr. Horner's book won the IPPY award in 2006 for "Best book in health medicine and nutrition."
"[W]e have the answers to the breast cancer epidemic," she says. "We truly do– and it's very simple. If you have a terrible diet and lifestyle and you do just one thing, you cut your risk in half. You do more than one thing and they will multiply up together. They don't add up together. They multiply up together, so it becomes extremely easy to dramatically lower your risk of breast cancer."
It's worth mentioning that the same strategies apply for other types of cancer as well. Prostate and colon cancer tumors, for example, are similar to breast cancer tumors, as certain hormones cause them all to grow. Hence, protective strategies that are effective against breast cancer also work on these other types of cancer. Cancer prevention strategies will also virtually eliminate most other chronic disorders.
The Problem with Conventional Cancer Screenings
While diagnostic screenings have their place, some cancer screens are just about worthless… The wisdom of using the PSA test, for example, which checks for prostate cancer, has recently been questioned. Ditto for mammograms.
"Looking at the diagnostic tests that are currently available, none of them are perfect," Dr. Horner says. "Everything has its pros and cons… [M]ammography produces radiation, which has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. It's like, "Why are you doing the test to look at a disease when it's actually causing the disease, too?" … It does pick things up at earlier stages, but the problem is that it's not very specific. So when it looks and it sees something… that looks suspicious, it is wrong 80 percent of the time. In the United States, there's roughly a million breast biopsies done per year, and 800,000 of them are unnecessary."
One of the best cancer screening methods is self-examination. But you need to make sure you're doing it correctly. For more information about how to do a breast self exam, please see this previous article.
MRI's, which do not use ionizing radiation, are not a practical tool as they are very expensive, and, like mammograms, MRI scans are not very specific. Ultrasound is another technique used in Western medicine. The traditional ultrasound can see whether a mass is cystic or solid. But while a solid mass is generally considered to be something that might be of concern, this is not 100 percent certain either, as cancer tumors can sometimes have cysts in them.
"Now there's a relatively new ultrasound that uses a color mode," Dr. Horner says. "It's called elastography. But there aren't very many centers in the United States that use it. I go to the Center of the Hoxsey Clinic, to Dr. Arturo Rodriguez at Tijuana. It has a color scale that measures the elasticity of the cell membranes. Cancer cells are very stiff, whereas normal cells have more fluidity to them. It'll show up as red if it has a lot of stiffness to it, as a cancer cell, or blue if it has elasticity… It's a very good tool."
Another form of cancer screen, which is still considered controversial in conventional medicine, is thermography, which gives you an infrared image of your body. By looking at heat and blood vessel patterns you can determine whether there are areas of concern.
"[B]efore you even get a tumor formation, the very first thing that happens is new blood vessels start to grow into the area where the tumor may form. Those blood vessels grow abnormally. They grow an abnormal amount of patterns and they produce an abnormal amount of heat. That's what thermography is checking for," Dr. Horner explains.
As with most new technologies, thermography hit some snags in its earlier stages, and fell out of favor in the early 70s. However, the technology has gotten a lot more sophisticated over the years, and is now computerized; eliminating the need for highly trained technicians to evaluate the results.
"The problem we still have today with thermography is that we don't have standardization," Dr. Horner explains. "We don't have a uniform way that people are tested and trained with uniform equipment, and so forth… But there's definitely a movement… to do standardization, and to get that technology available for women, because this is a technology that has no health detriments associated with it. It does not use radiation or anything harmful to your body."
Unfortunately, the advocates of mammography perceive thermography as a threat to their business model. So there's tremendous pressure against it, including from the federal regulatory agencies.
"It's unfortunate," Dr. Horner says, "but our country is run by big business. It's just is, so anytime we want to shift anything culturally like that, and we're going against established business, we have trouble because it's all about money."
For example, many of the presidents of the American Cancer Society were members of the Radiological Association, which is the industry supporting the mammography component. The entire medical field is littered with massive conflicts of interest.
'We can see that everywhere. You look in the FDA—there are people from Monsanto that work in the FDA. Unfortunately, people think, "the United States is not very corrupt." But actually, it's extremely corrupt," she says.
Still, there are many good reasons for considering thermography. To ensure you're getting the highest standard of care, Dr. Horner recommends using a practitioner certified by the International Academy of Clinical Thermography, an independent non-profit organization that provides objective, third-party certifications. Their website lists qualified thermography centers across the US, Canada, and some other countries, such as France, Trinidad, and Zambia.
Most Natural Prevention Strategies Can Reduce Your Cancer Risk by Half...
Through her research, Dr. Horner has gathered a large number of cancer-prevention strategies—about 50 in all! Even more astounding is the rate of effectiveness of many of these strategies.
"[I]f you look at the studies, virtually every single thing that has an influence [causes] almost a 50 percent reduction in cancer risk… and if you combine them, like I said, you'll get these synergistic results where they'll multiply up as far as their effect is concerned.
I'd say the most important thing is what you do or do not put in your mouth… because you can have huge influences by the foods you consume– the spices, the herbs, and so forth. And, the things that you avoid, that's going to give you the biggest results. … Vitamin D cuts your risks in half. Turmeric and anti-inflammatories cut your risk in half. I could go through each thing—and I'm telling you the research shows that there's about 40 to 50 percent reduction [in risk]—so… to say that one is necessarily better than anything else, that's a really hard thing to claim."
The Top Four Cancer-Promoting Foods
Dr. Horner brings up an excellent point, and that is that in order to be effective, you must first STOP doing that which is promoting cancer growth (or poor health in general), and then all the other preventive strategies have the chance to really have an impact. Addressing your diet should be at the top of your list, and rather than adding certain foods, you'll want to eliminate the most dangerous culprits first.
Naturally, processed foods and soft drinks do not belong in a cancer-preventive diet...
Dr. Horner, believes red meat from animals reared in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO's) is also a MAJOR contributor to cancer. These animals are given antibiotics, growth hormones and other veterinary drugs that get stored in their tissues. Additionally, cooking the meat over high heat creates heterocyclic amines, which further add to its carcinogenic effect.
While I do recommend eating meat, I agree that there is absolutely NO benefit to eating CAFO beef. The ONLY type of meat I recommend is organically-raised, grass-fed meats. It's hard for a lot of people to grasp the difference between CAFO and organic meat, but truly, they are like two different species in terms of their nutritional content. One is health harming while the other is beneficial.
So when we're talking about the detrimental impact of red meat on your health, especially in terms of feeding cancer, please understand that we're talking specifically about CAFO beef, aka "factory farmed" meat. Next on the list of cancer-promoters is sugar (this includes ALL forms of sugar, including fructose and grains).
"To me, sugar has no redeeming value at all, because they found that the more we consume it, the more we're fuelling every single chronic disease," Dr. Horner says. "In fact, there was a study done about a year ago… and the conclusion was that sugar is a universal mechanism for chronic disease. It kicks up inflammation. It kicks up oxygen free radicals. Those are the two main processes we see that underlie any single chronic disorder, including cancers. It fuels the growth of breast cancers, because glucose is cancer's favorite food. The more you consume, the faster it grows."
Next is the type of fats that you consume. It's important to remember that every cell membrane is made out of fat, as is your brain. According to Dr. Horner, bad-fats in the diet are a major contributor to ill health and cancer. On the list of fats to eliminate are:
- Animal fats from CAFO-raised animals
- Trans fats
- Partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated fats
Healthy fats of particular importance for cancer prevention are omega-3 and omega-9. According to Dr. Horner, omega-3 in particular serve to effectively slow down tumor growth in estrogen-sensitive cancers such as breast-, prostate- and colon cancers. Fourth on the list of cancer promoters is ANY item that contains xenoestrogens (chemicals that mimic estrogen). This can become a rather long list once you start including any food contaminated with such estrogen-mimicking chemicals, such as BPA, found in the linings of canned goods and in plastics. The list gets truly unwieldy when you include personal care products that contain such chemicals as well…
"There are case reports of five- and six-year-olds going through secondary sex characteristics because of the shampoo that they were using... There are all sorts of different sources where we're exposed to these chemicals from our foods and from the products that we use.
What we're seeing is younger and younger puberty. Around the world, the average age is about 16 years old. In the United States, it's 10 years old now, and sometimes even younger. The problem is that with each menstrual period there is a surge of estradiol, which is the strongest, most abundant form of estrogen, and the one that's most associated with breast cancer. If you start your period very young, you'll have more periods in your lifetime than what a person would have, obviously, if they started at an older age.
In addition to that, when a girl goes through puberty, her breast cells become really sensitive to environmental toxins, radiation, and so forth. They're considered immature. They haven't differentiated– as a more scientific term for it– so there's a longer period of time that they're exposed to these toxins where they have a greater sensitivity."
Dr. Horner reviews a number of other important factors that influence your cancer risk, so for more details, please listen to the interview in its entirety, or read through the transcript.
Eating for Cancer Prevention
According to Dr. Horner, the research clearly shows that the one food that is the most important for optimal health is plant foods.
"Plants are packed full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are crucial for our health. They also have hundreds of phytochemicals in them. These don't have any nutritional or caloric value, but they are like natural medicines, and some of them behave exactly like chemotherapy," she says.
"Every plant has some anti-cancer properties to them. There are some that are standouts. Cruciferous vegetables are something that I really recommend. They're a family of vegetables that include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, and Brussels sprouts…
All of them have several different chemicals in common. They've got indole-3-carbinol, Calcium D-glucarate, and sulforaphane. They have big anti-cancer properties to them, and they inhibit the growth of breast, prostate, colon cancer and a variety of other ones. Of all the families of vegetables to consume, [cruciferous vegetables] are the ones to be aware of, so you can make sure you're including that in your diet frequently."
Naturally, you'll want to make sure the vegetables are fresh, and ideally locally grown and organic. Besides cruciferous veggies, another standout plant for cancer-prevention is flax seed. The lignans in flax seed inhibit the growth of cancer in about a dozen different ways, including the exact same mechanism as the anti-cancer drug Tamoxifen and Arimidex, which shut down an enzyme in fat cells called aromatase that converts androgens into estrogens.
"I hear from patients, "Oh! My oncologist told me not to take flaxseeds, because they're estrogenic,"" Dr. Horner says."They don't understand how plant estrogens or "phytoestrogens" work.
There are all sorts of different strengths to estrogens. Let's say estradiol, which is the strongest, most abundant form– if it hooks on to the estrogen receptor, it may cause a thousand cell divisions. But if a plant estrogen hooks on, it may cause one. When you flood your system with these plant estrogens, I'd say it's kind of like a game of musical chairs. There are only certain numbers of receptors, and whoever gets their first, gets it. They're blocking the strong estrogens from getting on, so that's why it has an inhibitory effect."
Other Lifestyle Factors that Influence Your Cancer Risk
Other lifestyle factors that have been found to have an impact on chronic disease and cancer include:
- Vitamin D—There's overwhelming evidence pointing to the fact that vitamin D deficiency plays a crucial role in cancer development. As mentioned earlier, you can decrease your risk of cancer by MORE THAN HALF simply by optimizing your vitamin D levels with sun exposure. And if you are being treated for cancer it is likely that higher blood levels—probably around 80-90 ng/ml—would be beneficial. The health benefits of optimizing your levels, either by safe sun exposure (ideally), a safe tanning bed, or oral supplementation as a last resort, simply cannot be overstated. In terms of protecting against cancer, vitamin D has been found to offer protection in a number of ways, including:
To learn the details on how to use vitamin D therapeutically, please review my previous article, Test Values and Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency.
- Regulating genetic expression
- Increasing the self-destruction of mutated cells (which, if allowed to replicate, could lead to cancer)
- Reducing the spread and reproduction of cancer cells
- Causing cells to become differentiated (cancer cells often lack differentiation)
- Reducing the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones, which is a step in the transition of dormant tumors turning cancerous
- Getting proper sleep: both in terms of getting enough sleep, and sleeping between certain hours. According to Ayurvedic medicine, the ideal hours for sleep are between 10 pm and 6 am. Modern research has confirmed the value of this recommendation as certain hormonal fluctuations occur throughout the day and night, and if you engage in the appropriate activities during those times, you're 'riding the wave' so to speak, and are able to get the optimal levels. Working against your biology by staying awake when you should ideally be sleeping or vice versa, interferes with these hormonal fluctuations. According to Dr. Horner:
"If we, for instance, go to bed by 10, we have higher levels of our sleep hormone melatonin; there's a spike that occurs between midnight and 1am, which you don't want to miss because the consequences are absolutely spectacular. Melatonin is not only our sleep hormone, but it also is a very powerful antioxidant. It decreases the amount of estrogen our body produces. It also boosts your immune system… And it interacts with the other hormones.
So, if you go to bed after 10… it significantly increases your risk of breast cancer."
- Effectively addressing your stress: The research shows that if you experience a traumatic or highly stressful event, such as a death in the family, your risk of breast cancer is 12 times higher in the ensuing five years.
- Exercise—If you are like most people, when you think of reducing your risk of cancer, exercise doesn't immediately come to mind. However, there is some fairly compelling evidence that exercise can slash your risk of cancer.
One of the primary ways exercise lowers your risk for cancer is by reducing elevated insulin levels, which creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells. Additionally, exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. Your immune system is your first line of defense against everything from minor illnesses like a cold right up to devastating, life-threatening diseases like cancer.
The trick about exercise, though, is understanding how to use it as a precise tool. This ensures you are getting enough to achieve the benefit, not too much to cause injury, and the right variety to balance your entire physical structure and maintain strength and flexibility, and aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels. This is why it is helpful to view exercise like a drug that needs to be carefully prescribed to achieve its maximum benefit. For detailed instructions, please see this previous article.
Additionally it is likely that integrating exercise with intermittent fasting will greatly catalyze the potential of exercise to reduce your risk of cancer and stimulate widespread healing and rejuvenation.
For more information, please see Dr. Horner's book, Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner's Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer. You can also learn more about Dr. Horner on her website, www.DrChristineHorner.com.