THE BLOG

10 Strategies to Prevent and Treat Breast Cancer

Terrifying as the statistics can be, the good news is that you can implement a number of powerful, simple things to help prevent and treat breast cancer.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

I'm at high risk for breast cancer based on my genetic history," writes a longtime reader. "What advice do you have to prevent it, or if someone has it, are conventional treatments the only option?"

In the 1960s, one in 20 women were diagnosed with breast cancer; today that number has risen to one in eight women. According to The American Cancer Society, over 40,000 women will die from breast cancer in 2015.

These statistics, and the latest research, suggest environmental factors are driving cancer. Breast cancer risk has significantly increased due to factors such as poor diet, toxins, chronic stress, and sleep deprivation.

Terrifying as the statistics can be, the good news is that you can implement a number of powerful, simple things to help prevent and treat breast cancer.

Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger. Even if you have a familial history of breast cancer, you are not necessarily doomed. Even if your doctor gives you the seemingly hopeless news, you have an arsenal of tools to treat breast cancer.

As beneficial and lifesaving as they can be, conventional therapies like radiation and chemo overlook how simple yet powerful things like diet, toxins, and digestion can contribute to cancer.

I met a woman recently at the Cleveland Clinic where we started practicing Functional Medicine about a year ago. This well-intended woman, the director of a breast cancer clinic, advocates something called "active surveillance," which is really inactive surveillance, because they don't do or prescribe anything in between visits. They simply wait to see what happens next.

I say that what happens in between visits is the missing link that conventional medicine overlooks. There are plenty of things you can do in between visits to prevent or stop the progress of breast cancer.

In my practice, I take a different approach through Functional Medicine, which considers the factors that increase breast cancer risk and then eliminates them. From that perspective, you can literally change the soil in which cancer grows.

Imbalances in seven key systems in your body can contribute to breast cancer, along with every other disease. Among these seven key systems is hormonal imbalance; let's take a look at how this can contribute to breast cancer:

  • High insulin levels eventually create insulin resistance
  • Sugar is a driver behind high insulin levels. Every time you eat sugar, you raise insulin levels
  • High insulin levels promote inflammation and enable cancer cells to grow.
  • Sugar, especially in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other processed carbohydrates, surges your insulin levels, increasing estrogen in the bargain.

Put bluntly: Every time you eat sugar, you can increase your risk for breast cancer.

Increased insulin also means your body becomes really good at storing fat, and a vicious cycle ensues, as your insulin and estrogen levels stay cranked up. Studies show excess body fat increases your risk for breast cancer.

So now you're overweight (paving the path for diabesity), inflamed, and have high estrogen levels. Can you see how this quickly becomes a recipe for disaster?

When you deprive someone of sugar and then inject them with radioactive sugar, that sugar goes right to cancer cells, which triggers insulin and inflammation, all while feeding the cancer cells. Cancer cells love sugar.

To become proactive and prevent breast cancer, you absolutely want to eliminate sugar. For my patients with breast cancer, I recommend going cold turkey on sugar and processed foods.

I recommend they read and implement The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet immediately. This is a comprehensive, easy-to-follow plan that eliminates sugar, gluten, dairy, and other reactive foods in just 10 days.

Diet plays a major role in the development of breast cancer, but so do other factors like environmental toxins. The most damaging ones are substances we call "xenoestrogens," which mimic natural estrogen.

Xenoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors that activate estrogen, stimulating cancer pathways. In fact, these estrogen impersonators are 1,000 times more powerful than estrogen, and they react synergistically.

Digestive health also plays more of a role in your breast cancer risk than you might think. Maintaining a healthy gut flora (the correct ratio of healthy bacteria in your gut) improves your immune system and also helps you better break down food and detoxify the estrogen made in your body after it's been used.

Bad gut flora means that excess estrogen becomes reabsorbed rather than eliminated, creating estrogen dominance and all its risks. One meta-analysis found increased use of antibiotics, which kill off both bad and good bacteria, increases your risk for breast cancer.

I could go on, but you can begin to understand how dietary and lifestyle factors play significant roles in developing breast cancer. The good news is many of these factors are within your control. You have the power to prevent breast cancer.

Recently, I discussed how traumatizing it is to hear that you or a loved one has cancer. I then provided five strategies to treat or prevent cancer. Read on to learn my 10 strategies to prevent and treat breast cancer.

Implement These Key Strategies to Treat or Prevent Breast Cancer

Conventional medicine oftentimes overlooks simple but powerfully effective ways to prevent breast cancer and create abundant health. In my practice, I've found these 10 strategies incredibly helpful to do this and more:

  1. Fiber up. Fiber becomes critical for gut and overall health. Your goal should be 35 grams per day. High-fiber foods include vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and whole grains such as brown rice and ground flax seed. Consider a fiber supplement if you're not getting your complete quota from food.
  2. Have protein at every meal. Good protein sources include fish, lean poultry, beans, nuts, eggs, and soy. Make sure you include a few vegetarian options in your daily protein intake. Check out my favorite high-protein breakfast recipes here.
  3. Supplement wisely. At the very least, you want to take a good multivitamin/mineral, as well as fish oil. Remember, optimal levels of the B vitamin folate help to prevent breast and other cancers. You can find these and other supplements in my store.
  4. Control stress levels. Studies connect chronic stress levels with increased breast cancer risk. Whether you opt for meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or another de-stressor, find something that works for you and do it. My UltraCalm CD is a great way to melt away stress and anxiety.
  5. Restore gut health. Leading researchers at Cleveland Clinic discovered gut microflora influences cancer genes and your immune system. Tend your inner garden with gut-supporting foods like fermented foods, as well as fiber and probiotics. If you suspect gut issues, such as leaky gut or IBS, work with a Functional Medicine practitioner to correct them.
  6. Reduce your toxic load. Visit the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to learn ways to reduce toxic exposure. Become more aware about how things like household cleaners and cosmetics can increase your toxic load by visiting EWG's website.
  7. Exercise regularly. Studies show regular exercise can decrease your breast cancer risk. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, helping you balance estrogen and maintain a healthy body weight. No matter what your fitness level, you'll find an easy-to-apply exercise plan here.
  8. Go clean and green. Choose filtered water and organic food. Always opt for high-quality meat sources like wild salmon and grass-fed beef.
  9. Watch the alcohol. One glass of wine a day increases your breast cancer risk 40 percent. An increased alcohol load means your liver can't metabolize estrogen well. If you drink, limit wine to one glass three times a week. One drink is five ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol, or 12 ounces of beer.
  10. Get great sleep. Studies show an inverse association between sleep duration and breast cancer risk -- simply put: More sleep equals less risk. Aim for eight hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. Review my 19 top sleep tips here.When it comes to cancer -- and really, optimal health -- we're all in this together. We can all learn from each other. If you've found ways to reduce your breast cancer risk, I want to hear from you. I would love to hear your thoughts below or on my Facebook page.
Wishing you health and happiness, Mark Hyman, MD.

P.S. My colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Boham, has created a special DVD called the Breast Wellness Program which will be available soon. Sign-up here to learn more.