By Dr. Mercola
Revealing new data from the charity Cancer Research UK reports that a record number of women under the age of 50 are being diagnosed with breast cancer.
For the first time, more than 10,000 women under 50 were diagnosed with the disease in the UK, which translates to one out of every five women diagnosed with breast cancer.
The news comes on the heels of a JAMA study published earlier this year, which similarly found that the number of young women (aged 25-39) in the US being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer is also increasing.1
Typically, cancer is much more likely to develop as you get older. The non-profit BreastCancer.org even states:2
“ … the aging process is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer. That's because the longer we live, there are more opportunities for genetic damage (mutations) in the body. And as we age, our bodies are less capable of repairing genetic damage.”
So why is it that so many younger women are now being struck by this potentially deadly disease?
What Is Causing Breast Cancer in Young Women?
No one knows for sure, but it’s fairly safe to say that there are likely multiple contributors, many of them environmentally based. Cancer Research UK has singled out hormonal factors, such as having children later in life, having fewer children or taking birth control pills, as probable culprits, for instance.
This makes sense, as in 2002 one of the largest and best-designed studies of hormone replacement therapy was halted because women taking these synthetic hormones had such a higher risk of breast cancer (and heart attack, stroke and blood clots) that continuing forward with the study would have been unethical.
The news made headlines because millions of women were already taking these synthetic hormones, but fortunately it prompted many of them to quit. And what do you think happened a year after millions of women quit taking hormone replacement therapy? Incidence of breast cancer fell dramatically -- by 7 percent!
What does this have to do with the Pill? Birth control pills contain the SAME type of synthetic hormones -- estrogen and progestin -- that were used in the ill-fated study!
Even women who aren’t taking birth control pills are exposed to synthetic hormones that have become increasingly widespread in recent years.
For instance, parabens are chemicals with estrogen-like properties, and estrogen is one of the hormones involved in the development of breast cancer. Parabens are widely used in personal care products like shampoo, lotion, deodorant, shaving gel and cosmetics.
These chemicals have been detected in breast cancer tissues at concentrations up to 1 million times higher than the estrogen (estradiol) levels naturally found in human breast tissue.3 Propylparaben, in particular, was found in the highest concentration in the underarm area (axilla), where underarm deodorants are most used and breast cancer prevalence is at its highest.
Clearly these chemicals are accumulating at alarmingly high concentrations, likely because of their widespread and persistent daily use. And exposure often begins as early as in the womb, the health effects of which are completely unknown.
Another Breast Cancer Risk Hiding in Your Milk…
Not only are children and young women inundated with hormone-mimicking chemicals in personal care products, but such potentially cancer-causing chemicals are also found in a dietary staple for many: milk.
RBGH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone, is a synthetic version of natural bovine somatotropin (BST), a hormone produced in cows' pituitary glands. RBGH is the largest selling dairy animal drug in the US, where cows are injected with it to boost their milk production. But it is banned in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and in the 27 countries of the European Union because of its dangers to human health.
RBGH milk contains increased levels of insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 regulates cell growth, cell division, and the ability of cancer cells to spread to your distant organs (invasiveness). In other words, IGF-1 has potent growth-stimulating effects in human breast tissue, especially in the presence of estradiol (a form of estrogen). Growth factors such as IGF-1 are "catalysts" for the transformation of normal breast tissue into breast cancer tissue, and are critically involved in the aberrant growth of human breast cancer cells.
One study showed that premenopausal women with elevated IGF-1 levels had up to a seven-fold increase in breast cancer.4 And separate research showed women younger than age 35 who have elevated IGF-1 have more aggressive breast cancer.5
The breast tissues of female fetuses and infants are especially sensitive to hormonal influences and cancer-causing chemicals. Infants and children exposed to high IGF-1 early on may become "sensitized," leading to health problems later in life, such as breast enlargement in infants and young children, and breast cancer in adult women. Yet, despite these elevated risks to children, few schools make rBGH-free or organic milk available, nor do most state governments under low-income food programs
Toxic Insults, Nutritional Deficiencies Behind Many Breast Cancer Cases
The primary causes of breast cancer -- nutritional deficiencies, exposure to environmental toxicity, inflammation, estrogen dominance and the resultant breakdown in genetic integrity and immune surveillance – still manifest as disease primarily among those over 50. However, the toxic insults are now hitting younger generations, who are much more susceptible to their adverse health effects.
For instance, girls who receive radiation to the chest to treat childhood cancer have a high risk of developing breast cancer at a young age, according to research. Even those who received low doses of the common cancer treatment face an increased risk of breast cancer later, the scientists said.
Plus, in the US, women are still urged to get an annual mammogram starting at the age of 40, despite the fact that updated guidelines set forth by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2009 urge women to wait until the age of 50, and to only get bi-annual screening thereafter.
The primary hazard of mammography is ionizing radiation that may actually increase your cancer risk. According to a 2010 study,6 annual screening using digital or screen-film mammography on women aged 40–80 years is associated with an induced cancer incidence and fatal breast cancer rate of 20-25 cases per 100,000. This means annual mammograms cause 20-25 cases of fatal cancer for every 100,000 women getting the test. And now with the “new and improved” 3D TOMOSYNTHESIS mammogram, women will be exposed to even more radiation.
Screening Ultrasound Catches Cancers Missed by Mammography
Many women are unaware that if they have dense breast tissue (40 to 50 percent of women), mammograms are basically useless for them. Dense breast tissue and cancer both appear white on an X-ray, making it nearly impossible for a radiologist to detect cancer in these women. It’s like trying to find a snowflake in a blizzard.
Some radiologists already provide density information to their patients, and encourage them to utilize other screening options like thermography, ultrasound and/or MRI. Recent research, in fact, revealed that for women with dense breasts, receiving a screening breast ultrasound after mammography detected an additional 3.4 cancer or high-risk lesions per 1,000 women screened.7
I believe it reasonable for a woman to trust that her radiologist is not withholding vital density information. However only California, Connecticut, New York, Virginia and Texas have passed laws making it mandatory for radiologists to inform their patients about this issue. Unfortunately, many have kept this potentially lifesaving data from women for decades, and our government agencies have failed to protect them from this unethical practice.
Top Breast Cancer Prevention Strategies
Cancer screening does NOT equate to cancer prevention, and although early detection is important, using a screening method that in and of itself increases your risk of developing cancer is simply not good medicine... Preventing breast cancer is far more important and powerful than simply trying to detect it after it has already formed, which is why I want to share my top tips on how to help prevent this disease in the first place.
In the largest review of research into lifestyle and breast cancer, the American Institute of Cancer Research estimated that about 40 percent of US breast cancer cases could be prevented if people made wiser lifestyle choices.8 I believe these estimates are far too low, and it is more likely that 75 percent to 90 percent of breast cancers could be avoided by strictly applying the recommendations below, which are the same for young women and older women alike.
- Avoid sugar, especially fructose. All forms of sugar are detrimental to health in general and promote cancer. Fructose, however, is clearly one of the most harmful and should be avoided as much as possible.
- Optimize your vitamin D. Vitamin D influences virtually every cell in your body and is one of nature's most potent cancer fighters; recent research suggests maintaining your vitamin D levels may cut your cancer risk by 77 percent. Vitamin D is actually able to enter cancer cells and trigger apoptosis (programmed cell death). If you have cancer, your vitamin D level should be between 70 and 100 ng/ml.
Vitamin D works synergistically with every cancer treatment I'm aware of, with no adverse effects. I suggest you try watching my one-hour free lecture on vitamin D to learn more.
Remember that if you take oral vitamin D3 supplements, you also need to increase your vitamin K2 intake, as vitamin D increases the need for K2 to function properly. See my previous article What You Need to Know About Vitamin K2, D and Calcium for more information.
Please consider joining one of GrassrootsHealth’s D*Action’s vitamin D studies to stay on top of your vitamin D performance. For more information, see my previous article How Vitamin D Performance Testing Can Help You Optimize Your Health.
- Get plenty of natural vitamin A. There is evidence that vitamin A also plays a role in helping prevent breast cancer.9 It's best to obtain it from vitamin A-rich foods, rather than a supplement. Your best sources are organic egg yolks, raw butter, raw whole milk, and beef or chicken liver.
- Lymphatic breast massage can help enhance your body’s natural ability to eliminate cancerous toxins. This can be applied by a licensed therapist, or you can implement self-lymphatic massage. It is also promotes self-nurturance.
- Avoid charring your meats. Charcoal or flame-broiled meat is linked with increased breast cancer risk. Acrylamide — a carcinogen created when starchy foods are baked, roasted or fried — has been found to increase breast cancer risk as well.
- Avoid unfermented soy products. Unfermented soy is high in plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens, also known as isoflavones. In some studies, soy appears to work in concert with human estrogen to increase breast cell proliferation, which increases the chances for mutations and cancerous cells. It is believed that fermentation actually transforms soy phytoestrogens like daidzin, glycitin and genistin to the more active phytogestrogenic compounds dadzein, glycitein and genistein. But, these phytoestrogens are adaptopgenic and can even block out endogenous estradiol and xenobiotic estrogens, reducing their harm as least in theory.
- Improve your insulin receptor sensitivity. The best way to do this is by avoiding sugar and grains and making sure you are exercising, especially with Peak Fitness.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. This will come naturally when you begin eating right for your nutritional type and exercising. It's important to lose excess body fat because fat produces estrogen.
- Drink a half to whole quart of organic green vegetable juice daily. Please review my juicing instructions for more detailed information.
- Get plenty of high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. Omega-3 deficiency is a common underlying factor for cancer.
- Curcumin. This is the primary active ingredient in turmeric and in high concentrations, especially when combined with a phospholipid such as phosphatidyl choline or the black pepper compound piperine, can be very useful adjunct in the treatment of breast cancer. It shows immense therapeutic potential in preventing breast cancer metastasis.10 It's important to know that curcumin is generally not absorbed that well, so I've provided several absorption tips here.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, or at least limit your alcoholic drinks to one per day.
- Breastfeed exclusively for up to six months. Research shows breastfeeding can reduce your breast cancer risk.
- Avoid wearing underwire bras. There is a good deal of data that metal underwire bras can heighten your breast cancer risk.
- Avoid electromagnetic fields as much as possible. Even electric blankets may increase your cancer risk.
- Avoid synthetic hormone replacement therapy. Breast cancer is an estrogen-related cancer, and according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer rates for women dropped in tandem with decreased use of hormone replacement therapy. (As mentioned, there are similar risks for younger women who use oral contraceptives. Birth control pills, which are also comprised of synthetic hormones, have been linked to cervical and breast cancers.)
If you are experiencing excessive menopausal symptoms, you may want to consider bioidentical hormone replacement therapy instead, which uses hormones that are molecularly identical to the ones your body produces and do not wreak havoc on your system. This is a much safer alternative.
- Avoid BPA, phthalates and other xenoestrogens. These are estrogen-like compounds that have been linked to increased breast cancer risk
- Make sure you're not iodine deficient, as there's compelling evidence linking iodine deficiency with breast cancer. Dr. David Brownstein,11 author of the book Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can't Live Without It, is a proponent of iodine for breast cancer. It actually has potent anticancer properties and has been shown to cause cell death in breast and thyroid cancer cells.
For more information, I recommend reading Dr. Brownstein's book. I have been researching iodine for some time ever since I interviewed Dr. Brownstein as I do believe that the bulk of what he states is spot on. However, I am not at all convinced that his dosage recommendations are correct. I believe they are likely too high.