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Reducing Breast Cancer Risk

Women may not be able to sidestep the two biggest risks for breast cancer - being female and getting older - but a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) lists strategies that may help protect against the disease. The IOM focused on environmental contributors, including exposure to ionizing radiation from CT scans and other medical tests, and advised avoiding unnecessary ones. It views the current use of oral contraceptives by premenopausal women, as well as hormone replacement therapy and obesity among postmenopausal women as “clear links” to breast cancer risk. While evidence on chemical exposure is conflicting or contradictory, the IOM suggested avoiding benzene, 1,3-butadiene and ethylene oxide - chemicals found in the workplace, gasoline fumes, car exhaust and cigarette smoke. The IOM also said, “the jury is still out” on a breast cancer connection to the chemical BPA (bisphenol A), pesticides, cosmetics, dietary supplements and shift work (here, some evidence suggests that exposure to light at night may pose a risk). But it saw no good evidence of risks from hair dyes, use of cell phones and other electronics. To further reduce risk the IOM recommended that women increase their physical activity and minimize weight gain after menopause.

My take? This report might have benefited more women by having gone further in stressing the importance of physical activity. Exercise - at least 30 minutes a day - is a key protective measure because it can lead to weight loss and a decrease in body fat, which results in lowering circulating estrogen levels. I would also encourage women to avoid common pesticides and other chemical sources of xenoestrogens - compounds that have estrogen-like activity. And I suggest increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids by eating more cold water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon and sardines, using extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings and in cooking, eating more whole soy foods, drinking green tea, and limiting alcohol consumption (even modest amounts are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer).

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Reader Comments (9)

I have just finished having radiation treatment after a lumpectomy for DCIS. I am confused because both the radiological oncologist and my oncologist advised me not to eat any sort of soy or sweet potatoes. I would like to have a link to the study that tested "whole soy" because eating a low fat vegetarian diet is very limited without any soy.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren E

Karen E, I am sorry to hear of your experience.... I have heard negative things re: soy as well... Especially it's components used as ingredients ( ie, hydrogenated oils, whey, etc). I am curious why 'whole' soy as well.... I am even more curious as to why s/he would deter you from sweet potatoes- I absolutely love them and will very rarely eat white potatoes at all! Did s/he give you any clue as to why? Thanks!

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBEth

Have heard that soy in fermented forms does not produce increased risk. Birth control pills are STEROIDS, & increase body mass as well as cancer risk.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

Sorry you had cancer. Did your doctors advise you not to consume animal protein and to take vitamin D ? Everyone is talking about link between breast cancer and D deficiency, Countries that consume a lot of whole soy products have low numbers of breast cancer. Hope you feel better.
For more healthy eating and disease reversal I recomend

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterzib

Im curious to hear Dr. Weil's opinion on bioidentical estrogen replacement use after menopause?

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGayle Haas

Thanks for the kind thoughts! I'm so much luckier than others. As for sweet potatoes, they seem to act as phytoestrogens. Animal protein is high in fat and low fat is recommended. As science advances we will know exactly which things are contributors. I've also read that casein in milk may be an issue. I'm very interested in these studies too.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren E

I say watch the movie FORKS over KNIVES! Actually, those countries that consume fermented soy, for the most part,consume way less meat than we do in this country. That may have more to do with their lower cancer rate than their consumption of soy; and let's not ignore the fact that, unless organic, soy is a very heavily pestisided crop in this country.
A low fat vegetarian diet certainly is not limited because one avoids soy! I do wonder though, if the many other legumes also have estrogenic properties?
Confused about protein? Check out protein content in nuts. Nuts are so much yummier than soy!
AND, the latest research does not recommend low fat. Am I right Doctor?

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoberta

Here is a article regarding a small study with the benefits of drinking Red Wine and breast cancer prevention:

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermorecarrotsplz

As a naturopathic physician specializing in the integrative treatment of breast cancer, I have sorted through mass amounts of research both for and against soy in the treatment/prevention of breast cancer. I can tell you that it really depends on the individual situation. Karen, in your case, if you are post-menopausal, soy appears to reduce the risk of recurrence of breast cancer. You can find the paper to support these findings in the CMAJ:
In my practice, I tend not to prescribe soy isoflavone supplements for treatment/prevention of breast cancer (only in the treatment of prostate cancer) and rather, I encourage most women to consume small amounts of organic soy food daily - preferably fermented, and limited to one serving per day.

January 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Sharon Gurm
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