In case you hadn’t noticed, October is breast cancer awareness month. Among other things, that means that we are blindsided with pink.
There are, of course, good reasons to promote awareness of breast cancer since it is so prevalent and can be deadly (I personally lost an aunt to breast cancer last year). But everyone is “aware” of breast cancer, so what are we really interested in? What I am most interested in is prevention rather than an elusive “cure.”
Prevention is, of course, important because if we do not need to cure the disease we will not have to cope with potential mal-effects of the treatment, nor deal with any pain, discomfort, or medical bills in the interim.
So, let’s talk a bit about some of the things to look out for and what you can do to help maintain wonderful breast health.
Vitamin D seems to be an anti-cancer nutrient in general. Is it just that those with higher levels often are out in the sun living healthier lifestyles? Is it something else? Maybe we aren’t sure, but we do know that there is quite a link between higher vitamin D levels and lowering your risk of breast cancer. There is a study indicating that post-menopausal women have a lower risk of breast cancer with higher blood levels of vitamin D and another stating that premenopausal women with low serum vitamin D have 3 times the breast cancer risk.
So, get some sun, eat foods that have vitamin D, whatever it takes, make sure your levels aren’t too low.
Women are very very programed to be self-sacrificing and to always put on a facade of being happy and pleasant. You know what I am talking about. How often do people tell you to smile before they even say hello to you?
Dr. Christiane Northrup is pretty much my mind/body guru when it comes to women’s health, so I am going to pull a quote from her lovely book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom:
“As far back as 1800, the medical literature has noted associations between breast cancer and loneliness, sorrow, and even rage and anger. Women with breast cancer frequently have a tendency toward self-sacrifice, inhibited sexuality, an inability to see themselves as supported by others, an inability to discharge anger and hostility, a tendency to hide anger and hostility behind a facade of pleasantness, and an unresolved hostile conflict with their mothers.”
“Given our society’s tendency to suppress, ignore, or denigrate women and their anger, it is easy to see why so many women have breast problems.”
Does this mean that it is your fault if you have, or get, breast cancer? NO. But there are ways that your body tried to get your attention, and bring your focus back to you and what your body needs.
Surprised? It seems that the earlier you start having children the less likely you are to get breast cancer. This is speculated to be due to the maturation process that happens to the breast tissue only after having a full term pregnancy. Your risk goes down even more with subsequent children. Here is a paper on the increased risk of breast cancer in women with early menarche and late childbearing.
The studies are mixed. Do bras increase your odds of breast cancer? There was a study by CC Hsieh in 1991 that found breast cancer doubled in those that wore a bra versus non-wearers, but whether that was due to breast size or not is uncertain. Breast cancer risk does tend to increase with larger breast size, but could that be due to tighter bras? Are large bosoms inherently more prone to breast cancer? My guess is that being bra free does help reduce your risk of cancer, mostly due to better blood flow and lymph drainage. If you aren’t quite ready to go bra free, don’t wear a bra at night and try to give your breasts a massage when you take off your bra. They will appreciate it :)
Hormonal contraceptive use
Your risk of breast cancer tends to increase based on the length of time using estrogen containing hormonal contraceptives. It seems that the risk is mitigated 10 years after discontinuation of the hormonal contraceptives, but research is not all clear on hormonal contraceptives and cancer. My guess would be that that is because there is a lot of money behind any research that will say there is not an association, but you can see a summation of the current research here. Ray Peat has written an excellent article on the background story of the estrogen industry as well.
Since breast cancer is associated with higher estrogen levels, and many endocrine disruptors mimic estrogen and increase estrogenic activity in the body, endocrine disruptors have been implicated in an increased risk of breast cancer. Since BPA is the main endocrine disruptor that we currently study, there is a lot of information on BPA and it’s relation to breast cancer.
Self exam note
If you want to perform self exams, do so only just after finishing your period if you are premenopausal. At other times in your cycle your breasts can be lumpier due to hormonal activity. This is natural and cyclic and will subside.
It’s also good to note that self-exams actually aren’t often recommended anymore, due to most lumps that are found being non-cancerous, cancerous lumps having to be pretty far along in order to be detected, and confusion with cyclical changes (which now that you see my earlier tip, won’t be a problem for you).
What do you think? Are you worried about breast cancer risk and what do you do to increase your breast health?
Hannah Ransom is a Fertility Awareness instructor. She teaches a live, online course on how to properly use the symptothermal method of fertility awareness as both a contraceptive method as well as a fertility-enhancing tool. There are still a handful of slots open for her next class on Saturday, October 26th . Click HERE to read more and to register for the class.