Promoting Breast Health: The Facts about Breast Cancer Detection and Prevention
Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy
A diagnosis of breast cancer certainly strikes terror in the hearts of women. The latest statistics suggest that 1 out of every 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer. The cancer experts claim that your best defense against breast cancer is early detection so that it can be treated. Unfortunately, this philosophy makes your odds of getting breast cancer seem like a game of roulette, where you have no recourse when your number is up. But that’s simply not true. Let’s review the facts.
One of the most basic methods of early detection – and actually the most accurate (as high as 90%) – is regular breast self-exams. A confounding factor for self-exams (as well as other detection methods) is the presence of various lumps in the breast. Most of the time, these lumps will be deemed harmless and not necessarily precancerous. However, these easily dismissed lumps could be a signal that something is not quite right. For example, breast lumps have been linked to hormonal and nutritional imbalances. In a personal study of one, I can attest that when I started to use progesterone at about the age of 45, most of the lumps in my breasts disappeared. I had been getting yearly mammograms and suffered with premenstrual tender breasts for about 20 years prior. Dr. Eugene Shippen recommended the addition of iodine for me and the last, largest lump disappeared. He calls this lumpy affliction “cauliflower breasts.”
The presence of any lumps in the breasts, or cyclical breast tenderness or pain, should be explored. A self-exam is the starting point. A breast self-exam can be enhanced by using breast exam pads, which are actually FDA-approved devices consisting of two plastic sheets that sandwich liquid between them. When you use these pads during a breast self-exam, your fingers are able to detect even more subtle changes in the texture of your breast tissue. If you think you feel something unusual in your breast, trust your gut and get it checked by your healthcare practitioner.
At present, the standard method for breast cancer detection continues to be mammography. Industry sources claim that the amount of radiation is small. However, the effects of radiation are cumulative, and some individuals may be exposed as many as four times per breast in one session. Premenopausal breasts are very sensitive to radiation, and radiation exposure has been identified as a cancer initiator and promoter.
Another potential issue with mammography is that the trauma inflicted on the breast while being compressed between the two plates could have serious consequences if breast cancer exists. The encapsulated cancer cells in the breast could be dislodged and spread into the blood stream.
Mammography is not very effective at early detection because cancer typically exists for eight years or more before it is detectable on a mammogram. Mammography also produces a large number of both false positive (benign breast lumps) and false negative readings. An improved three-dimensional mammography device was announced recently, which may improve the imaging and therefore its effectiveness, but each scan delivers twice as much radiation as a regular mammogram.
Breast thermography first appeared several decades ago, but it has been slow to catch on because mammography is so entrenched in the medical industry. With thermography, the equipment measures very small changes in temperature and produces an image (thermogram) of the breast tissue. Precancerous and cancerous tissues are more active metabolically (i.e., “hotter”), which makes them identifiable on a thermogram. This detection method offers significant advantages, including:
- It can detect metabolic changes in advance of an active cancer.
- It can detect cancers in the underarm area, a frequent site for breast cancer, which is not detectable by mammography.
- The breasts are not exposed to radiation.
- The breasts do not need to be compressed.
Dr. Samuel Epstein claims that a breast self-exam, verified with a breast exam by a trained professional, offers much more accuracy with lower cost and far less trauma for the breasts. Therefore, Dr. Epstein believes this should be the standard detection method rather than mammography or other devices.
In addition to regular self-exams, other measures you can take to help keep your breasts healthy include:
- Maintain hormone balance. Make sure your body has enough progesterone, and that estrogens are not dominant or accumulating.
- Get enough iodine, which is essential for healthy breasts, and vitamin D, which is believed to help protect the breasts.
- Decrease or stop caffeine if your breasts are sensitive.
- Make sure that the lymph glands around your breasts and under your arms are not constricted by tight fitting bras or clothing. These glands help carry toxins from the breast area.
- Avoid using antiperspirants containing aluminum, especially right after shaving under the arms. Because the most frequent site of breast cancer is near the underarm area, aluminum is believed to be associated with breast cancer.
With reliable information and a conscious decision to take good care of your body, you are more likely to beat the odds of losing a breast to cancer.
- Breastcancer.org. U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics. http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics. Last accessed: April 2018.
- BreastThermogrophy. breastthermography.com. Last accessed: April 2018.
- Vitamin D Council. https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/. Last accessed: April 2018.
- Chamberlain J. Cancer: The Complete Recovery Guide. Long Island Press; Syosset, NY: 2008.
- Bollinger TM. Cancer – Step Outside the Box. Infinity 510 Squared Partners; http://infinity510partners.com/: 2006.
- Derry D. Breast Cancer and Iodine: How to Prevent and How to Survive Breast Cancer. 2nd edition. Trafford Publishing; Bloomington, IN: 2006.