Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene has lead to a lot of confusion about the different causes of breast cancer. The BRCA1 gene mutation is an inherited mutation that prevents the body from making essential repairs to DNA that is damaged during our cells replication process leading to an accumulation of genetic defects and an 87% chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer. The fact is very few women carry this gene, about 1 in 800.

Tips On Reducing The Risks Of Breast Cancer

Most women who develop breast cancer have no genetic risk at all. That means for most of us, there’s plenty we can do to lower our risk of cancer. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) there are four factors which are said to contribute to breast cancer:

  • Stagnation: lack of flow of qi and blood which over time leads to denser and denser tissue.
  • Heat and Toxicity: the presence of external toxins such as cigarette smoke, environmental toxins, or chemical estrogens.
  • Deficiency: a failure of your body’s immune system to clean up abnormal cells.
  • Damp Accumulation: basically excess fat cells.

Consequently, in TCM cancer prevention focuses on moving qi and blood, protecting the body from toxicity, clearing damp accumulation, and supporting the body’s natural defenses. Here are just a few ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer that, unlike having the BRCA1 gene, are well within your control.

Support Your Liver

Some breast cancers grow in response to excess estrogen in your system, which means that it is helpful to support your liver whose job it is to filter out estrogen and various other toxins. If our livers are preoccupied by filtering too much alcohol or chemicals from processed foods, it’s not going to be as effective.

Interestingly in TCM, breast cancer is often related to liver qi stagnation, which is TCM’s way of describing an over-taxed liver leading to lack of flow of qi and blood which, as mentioned earlier, is one of the reasons for cancer from a Chinese medical perspective.

  • Limit Alcohol -There is a strong link between breast cancer risk and alcohol consumption. As little as one drink a day can raise your risk of breast cancer by 5%. Try to limit it to no more than 3-4 drinks a week.
  • Add Bitter Greens such as dandelion greens, endive, and radicchio to your salad to stimulate the liver. Beets are also good at cleansing the blood. Liver supporting herbs including dandelion root, milk thistle, fringe tree, artichoke and turmeric. Ask us about our 21 day liver detox program.
  • B Vitamins also aid the liver and are depleted by coffee use. They can be added in the form of whole foods (such as lentils, rice bran, and blackstrap molasses) or supplements. Vitamin B6, in particular, enhances the breakdown and removal of estrogen from the body.
    Flax seed oil improves liver function. Flax seed is particularly high in a phytoestrogen called lignan, which appears to decrease estrogen production and which may inhibit the growth of some breast cancers.

Limit Your Exposure to External Estrogen and Toxins

Controlling how much estrogen you take in is difficult in our estrogen-laden environment. Agricultural chemicals and pesticides mimic the activity of estrogen, making estrogen receptor sites more sensitive. Urine, contaminated with high levels of residual estrogen from birth control pills, can seep back into water supplies through inadequate sewage treatment procedures. Plastic wrap and plastic food containers can leach estrogen-like compounds into our food. These are all considered to be environmental toxins, which, as we talked about earlier, can contribute to cancer.

Unless your doctor considers it imperative, it is wise to avoid estrogen replacement therapy as a means of addressing menopausal symptoms.
Avoid exposure to pesticides. Research has shown that the molecular structure of some pesticides closely resembles that of estrogen. This means they may attach to estrogen receptor sites in your body. One study found that women with breast cancer had elevated levels of pesticides in their body.

  • Avoid Hormone-Treated meat and dairy
  • Eat As Much Organic Produce as you can
  • Avoid Refined and Hydrogenated Oils also called trans-fats. A study found that women with the high levels of trans fats in their blood had twice the risk of breast cancer.
  • Eat Cruciferous Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and brussel sprouts. These contain a phytonutrient called diindolylmethane (DIM) which supports the activity of enzymes that improve estrogen metabolism. Research shows diindolylmethane helps your body process estrogen so that less is free floating in your blood stream. Ask us about FemGuard or other DIM containing supplements.

Support Your General Health

This is simple, the better health you are in, the less likely cancerous cells will be triggered to form.

  • Regular Exercise – Research has shown that women who exercise regularly can reduce their risk of breast cancer by 20%. In TCM exercise is considered to be the best way of moving qi and blood and as we mentioned earlier it is qi and blood stagnation that can contribute to cancer.
  • Low Fat, High Fibre Diet is a helpful way of reducing the amount of free floating estrogen in your blood stream.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight – The link between obesity and breast cancer is clear. Researchers have found that if you are 22lbs over weight you increase your breast cancer risk by 18%. This is particularly true if you gain weight after menopause. The reason for this is that excess fatty tissue causes an increase in the amount of circulating estrogen and breast cancer risk increases in relation to the amount of estrogen you are exposed to during your lifetime. In Eastern medicine this weight gain is related to damp accumulation, which is a way of describing excess fat cells.
  • Give Up Unhealthy Habits such as smoking. If you need help with this, ask us how acupuncture can help and other ways we can support you.
  • Perform Self Examinations once a month, preferably in the week after your period. If you notice any breast changes, such as a lump or skin changes contact your doctor.
  • Take Vitamin D supplements – Research shows a higher incidence of breast cancer in women with low vitamin D levels.

Move Qi and Blood In The Breast

From a TCMperspective, having breast lumps, also known as fibrocystic breasts, means that there is stagnation in your breast tissue. Western clinical research seems to suggest that having fibrocystic breasts does not increase your risk of breast cancer unless some of the cells are already atypical. This fits with the Chinese medical idea that stagnation needs to be combined with other factors such as toxicity and weak immunity in order for cancer to develop. However, we still recommend moving qi and blood in the breast as a way of taking preventative action against breast cancer.

  • Regular Exercise – The best way of moving qi and blood is regular exercise. We recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week. Weight training 2-3 times a week along with frequent yoga is also recommended to round out your exercise routine.
  • Regular Acupuncture can move qi and blood.
  • Chinese Herbal Formulas can reduce tenderness from PMS or fibrocystic breasts by moving qi and blood.
  • Castor Oil Pack – If you suffer from tender breasts or have benign breast lumps, apply a castor oil pack to the breast once a week. The pack invigorates the blood and helps the lymphatic system move debris.

Explore The Emotions

In TCM both benign and malignant breast lumps are associated with liver qi stagnation which is associated with repressed anger. We have noticed in our practice that breast cancer patients have often experienced a situation which they are still angry about and have internalised it in some way. It may be worth exploring these areas either by journaling or with a therapist.


Tips On Reducing The Risks Of Breast Cancer
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