Do you believe breast cancer is preventable? Or are you more likely to think you may get it even if you do everything right?
Actually, both are correct. There’s quite a lot an individual can do to prevent breast cancer, and each of those actions reduces – but does not completely eliminate – the risk. This is true of many other preventive health measures we take, such as using seat belts, getting childhood immunizations and wearing bike helmets.
So while science is very clear that the steps I am going to tell you about will reduce your risk of breast cancer, they will not prevent 100 percent of cases. Do you have a guess as to how many cases could be prevented every year in the U.S.? Over 73,000! At least that many women would never have to hear that bad news if they all follow preventive habits. And what are they?
Research has shown that these are the most effective measures women can take to reduce their risk of breast cancer: weight control, regular exercise, reduce alcohol intake, breastfeed babies, reduce toxins in food (such as trans-fats and pesticides on produce) and eat some specific breast- healthy foods.
What are some of my top foods for breast cancer prevention?
Soy foods, including tofu, are high in isoflavones, potent anticancer agents. East Asian women with higher consumption of tofu and other soy foods have reduced rates of breast cancer. Cooking tip: buy extra firm, and wrap it in a towel between two plates for 2 hours to remove liquid before cooking; chop into cubes and it will absorb the taste of everything around it.
Broccoli and other Brassica vegetables (like cabbage and cauliflower) are high in indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which has strong anticancer properties. I3C is especially important for preventing breast cancer because it helps shift the balance of estrogen away from a form that more likely promotes tumor growth. Enjoy broccoli lightly cooked to better release nutrients, by steaming or sautéing in olive oil.
Get your fish oil from fish, not pills, by enjoying rainbow trout (or other oily fish). Women without breast cancer have higher levels of omega-3 oils in the body, and studies have found that one of the omega-3s, DHA, decreases tissue inflammation that can lead to tumor growth. Even farm-raised rainbow trout is safe (unlike other farmed fish) and loaded with omega-3 oils.
Flax seeds are by far the best vegetarian source of omega-3 oils. High in lignans (cancer protective compounds), they may block some of the long-term tumor-promoting risks of natural estrogen. One to two tablespoons of ground flax seed a day, sprinkled on salads, yogurt or smoothies works well. Keep refrigerated to avoid rancidity.
Learn to enjoy a spice called turmeric. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, the spice that gives Indian curries their yellow color and delicious taste. Medical research has shown that curcumin significantly inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells. It may be the most potent anticancer spice known. Add turmeric liberally to rice dishes, eggs and stews.
There is a huge amount of science supporting the anti-cancer effect of a compound called lentinan from the shiitake mushroom, with studies stretching back into the 1960s. Do not eat raw mushrooms. Break off the stems, slice them and sauté in olive oil for a side dish.
Raspberries and other berries are high in ellagic acid, which has three cancer-fighting abilities: detoxification of cancer causing chemicals in the body; antioxidant ability to prevent cellular damage by free-radicals; and ability to actually slow the growth of cancer cells. Fresh is best, and organic when possible; in the off-season, keep a bag of frozen berries on hand for dessert.
Research has proved that women decrease breast cancer risk by consuming higher amounts of natural carotenoids (vitamin A precursors) in foods. Green leafy veggies such as chard are especially high in natural carotenoids: one cup of cooked chard provides more than double the daily requirement for vitamin A.
Finally, green tea is rightly renowned for an antioxidant called EGCG, which slows the growth of breast cancer cells. The cancer inhibitory effects of tea are from a synergistic effect of multiple compounds from the leaf – not EGCG alone.
To learn more, read my book, Breast Cancer: Reduce Your Risk with Foods You Love (Penstokes Press, 2011). You can find print or e-books on Amazon and the Nook at Barnesandnoble.com. Learn more at www.breasthealthplan.com.
ROBERT PENDERGRAST, MD, MPH IS A PEDIATRICIAN ON THE FACULTY AT GEORGIA HEALTH SCIENCES UNIVERSITY AND HAS A PRIVATE PRACTICE IN NORTH AUGUSTA AT AIKEN-AUGUSTA HOLISTIC HEALTH.