What's New in Breast Health
c. 2005 Susun S Weed
An update on what's been happening in the past
five years that's of interest to women dancing
with breast cancer. From the articles I've saved
(I read nearly one hundred magazines a month,
ranging from scientific re-caps to the popular
and alternative presses): The trends, first summarized,
then itemized with references, and -- here and
there -- helpful hints to help your health the
Wise Woman Way.
Breast Health Summary
Screening mammograms, especially for women under
50, continue to draw heavy criticism. Former head
of mammography services in the UK says: "To
promote mammography to women under the age of
50 is absolutely unethical." Screening mammograms,
along with the biopsies and treatments they engender,
may actually be triggering aggressive breast cancers
in asymptomatic women, not "finding it early,"
as we have been told. Wise women say "no"
to mammograms and focus on breast health.
choices are more important than ever in keeping
breasts healthy. Exercise plus a diet (not pills)
rich in antioxidants and low in refined carbohydrates,
continues to top the list. Mounting evidence of
the adverse effects of wearing bras, not breast
feeding, and being exposed to light at night gives
us new incentives to increase our consumption
of green tea, iodine-rich kelp seaweeds, and the
Wise Woman's favorite: nourishing
New studies connect frequent antibiotic use with
a doubling of breast cancer risk, but frequent
use of aspirin with a lowering of breast cancer
risk. Researchers found high concentrations of
deodorant and cosmetic preservatives in breast
tumors, plus evidence that deodorant use combined
with underarm shaving can increase the risk of
breast cancer. I believe that inflammation may,
like radiation, heat up dormant cancers and get
New ways of treating tumors and of testing continue
to appear, while the best of the best of complementary
medicine for those dancing with cancer continues
to gather widespread praise.
Breast Health: Story by
Screening Mammograms continue to draw criticism,
especially for women under 50. Despite plenty
of evidence to the contrary, public health policy
makers continue to insist that getting a mammogram
is the same as taking care of yourself, and that
exposing breast tissues to ionizing radiation
is cancer prevention. Worse yet, evidence is mounting
that routine screening -- and subsequent biopsies
and treatments -- is turning non-aggressive or
"latent" cancers (especially ductal
carcinoma in situ) into aggressive, life-threatening
If your doctor insists you have a mammogram,
remember: Radiation damage is cumulative. The
more mammograms you have, the more likely you
are to initiate cancer, just as the more you're
in the sun, the more likely you are to get skin
cancer. Even if you've already had a mammogram,
even if you've had a biopsy, you can choose to
say "no" mammograms and care for your
breasts the Wise Woman Way.
"Mammography is especially likely to miss
the [aggressive] tumors that do the most harm."
Of 429 breast cancer diagnosed over five years
in Puget Sound, 279 were picked up by mammography,
and most were in the earliest stage. Of the 150
that were missed, most were so fast growing that,
although they didn't exist at the time of one
yearly mammogram, had progressed to lymph-node-involvement
before the next yearly mammogram.
"The Picture Problem," Malcolm
Gladwell, The New Yorker, December 13, 2004.
"The risks associated with overdiagnosis
and overtreatment are significant enough to make
avoiding mammography a reasonable choice for women
without breast symptoms."
After screening mammography was begun in Norway,
breast cancer diagnosis increased by 54%. In Sweden
the increase was 45%. There has been no corresponding
long-term reduction in the rate of women diagnosed.
"The significance of these findings is this:
Mammography causes many women to be diagnosed
and treated for a type of breast cancer that would
never produce symptoms or become life threatening
if left undetected."
"Breast Screening Finds Many Cancers That
Would Never be Lethal." HealthFacts
from the Center for Medical Consumers, April 2004.
"There are certain calcifications. . . that
are always benign. . . .[and some that] are always
associated with cancer. But . . . the vast amount
are in the middle and making that differen-tiation.
. . is not clear cut."David Dershaw, head
of breast-imaging Memorial Sloan Kettering.
Computer-aided mammograms may improve the doctors'
bottom line, but they do nothing for women. A
medical practice that does 60,000 mammograms would
generate more than $650,000 in extra income by
adding computer-aided detection, but this would
cause "no discernible improvement in accuracy
nor improved outcomes for the women screened."
"Computer-Aided Mammography No Improvement
Over Standard Mammography," Health Facts
from the Center for Medical Consumers, March 2004.
A review of a report in the Journal of the National
Cancer Institute, Feb. 4, 2004.
"During screening, 5 to 10 percent of mammograms
show potential abnormalities, requiring doctors
to order additional mammograms, ultrasound imaging,
biopsies, and other tests. However, about 97 percent
of women in their 40s and about 86 percent of
women age 50 and over who have a suspicious initial
mammogram turn out not to have breast cancer."
A prestigious group that independently evaluates
the quality of evidence on medical-screening topics
(PDQ) says its most recent review raises uncertainty
about whether there's a benefit to mammogram screening.
The PDQ report is at www.nci.nih.gov/cancertopics/pdq/screening/breast/healthprofessional
"Mammograms on Trial", Damaris
Christensen, Science News, April 27, 2002
Cornelia Baines, MD, with the Canadian National
Breast Screening Study, says mammography screening
does not reduce the breast cancer death rates
for women in their 40s (Annals of Internal Medicine,
She says: "Breast cancer mortality rates
show two peaks: one occurs three years after diagnosis,
the other at nine years. . . . Increasingly, some
researchers speculate that something associated
with biopsy or surgery in some women stimulates
growth factors, which for women with micrometastases
ends up stimulating them and them they die."
And this was seen in women of all ages, not just
those in their 40s.
"Read This Before You Have a Mammogram,"
HealthFacts, October 2002
"To promote mammography to women under the
age of 50 is absolutely unethical."
Michael Baum, MD, emeritus professor of surgery,
believes that screening mammograms increase breast
cancer deaths. He supports Judah Folkman's suggestion
that we rename in situ cancer as "latent
cancer." He warns: "If you identify
these latent cancers [with mammograms] and biopsy
them, you have traumatized the area. You immediately
trigger the natural healing mechanisms . . . [which]
involve angiogenesis. . . . [A latent cancer]
ceases to be latent. A latent disease becomes
an aggressive disease." This is not limited
to breast cancer. "If you find a symptomless
renal tumor by chance and operate, in no time
the patient is riddled with metastasis."
(See report on green tea countering this, below.)
"Surgeon Who Headed a U. K. Mammography
Program Becomes One of Its Strongest Critics,"
HealthFacts, October 2002.
Veronica James, a bio-physicist at the Australian
National University has found a way to screen
women for breast cancer -- by looking at one pubic
hair. A special molecular structure is present
in the hair of those who have breast cancer, and
absent in those who don't have it.
"Good-bye to Mammograms," Discover,
Dietary Links & Lifestyle
Exercise lowers everyone's risk of breast cancer,
and even a little helps a lot. In a recent study,
ten hours of exercise a week lowered the risk
of breast cancer by 37%. But walking for an hour
and a quarter a week -- that's just a bit more
than ten minutes a day -- lowered risk by 30%.
"A Brisk Walk for Breasts," Nutrition
Action Healthletter, December 2003.
". . . inhibiting angiogenesis can arrest
the growth of advanced tumors, even when they
have become resistant to all other available therapy."
Green tea not only helps prevent cancer but actively
repress it and stop its metastatic spread. Anti-angiogenetic
factors in green tea, such as epigallocatechin-3-gallate
(EGCG) reduce new blood vessel growth to tumors
by up to 70% with as little as 3 cups of green
tea a day.
Nature, 398:381, 1999; British
Medical Journal, 318:1086, 1999; Medical Tribune,
39, #9:13, 1998 and 40, #9:2, 1999.
"According to the survey, Mexican women
with breast cancer self-reported a significantly
higher intake of total calories, proteins, carbohydrates,
sucrose and fructose. . . . . The women with the
highest carbohydrate intake [57 percent or more
of calories] had more than twice the risk of breast
cancer than women with the lowest carbohydrate
intake. . . . . But women who ate a great deal
of insoluble fiber, found in whole grains, fruits
and vegetables had less risk of developing breast
"Carbohydrates and the Risk of Breast Cancer
Among Mexican Women." Cancer
Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, August
2004, vol. 13, pp 1283-1289.
Iodine protects breasts, according to David Derry,
MD. After reading a report in a 1993 issue of
Canadian Journal of Surgery, he suggested to over
200 female patients with cystic breasts that they
take extra iodine. Within two months to two years,
their cysts completely disappeared.
Instead of taking supplements, I keep my breasts
healthy by using lots of high-iodine kelp (seaweed)
in my diet. I cook beans with kombu, add wakame
to soups, and eat Nereocystis fronds like potato
chips. Look for seaweed recipes in my book Healing
"Iodine Combats Breast Cysts," Victoria
Times Colonist, Sept. 9, 1997
Find a history of bras and their influence on
breast disease via Dr.
Ralph Reed's research.
Some highlights from his collection of scientific
articles: In 2000, researchers in Japan found
that wearing a girdle and a bra lowered melatonin
levels by 60 percent. (Melatonin plays an important
part in preventing breast cancer.) Also in 2000,
researchers looking at the connection between
hot breasts and breast cancer found that wearing
a bra causes localized heating of breast tissues.
In 1995, women who stopped wearing bras reported
their fibrocystic breast disease and pain was
relieved or eliminated. In 1991 researchers at
Harvard noticed that women who did not wear bras
had a 60% lower rate of breast cancer than women
who wore them.
"Breast cancer risk was increased 40-60%
among those who frequently did not sleep during
the period of the night when melatonin levels
are typically at their highest: between 1:00 am
and 2:00 am. This includes insomniacs as well
as night shift workers." There even appeared
to be an indication of increasing risk for increasing
amounts of ambient light in the bedroom.
to Light at Night Increases the Risk of Breast
Cancer," HealthFacts, Nov, 2001, reporting
on an October 2001 study published in the Journal
of the National Cancer Institute.
Valerie Beal of Oxford University led a study
that found a "4.3 percent risk reduction
across-the-board [for each year of breastfeeding]."
In fact, Beal and her collaborators found that
"almost half the difference" between
the high breast cancer rates found in industrialized
nations and the low rates found in developing
nations was due to breastfeeding differences.
We can support each other to breast feed, and
to do it longer. But it's hard to breast feed
more than three months if that's all the paid
leave you get from your job (and it's thanks to
Bill and Hillary Clinton that Americans get even
that). And don't bother to try to change policies
at your workplace if you're just one person; you
won't find it easy.
Working together, where ever we need to, we can
challenge employers to come up to the general
world standard of support nursing moms. In the
USA, we can support a bill brought by Representative
Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) that would mandate businesses
to give breastfeeding mothers longer maternity
leaves and routine breaks once she's back at work
so she can continue nursing her baby.
Breastfeeding benefits the baby and society as
well as protecting mom's breasts from cancer.
Some researchers find that formula feeding encourages
both diabetes and obesity later in life.
"News on Lower Breast Cancer Risks,"
Liz Galst, Ms. Magazine, Spring
Emerging evidence suggests that even moderate
use of aspirin can reduce breast cancer risk for
post-menopausal women. Those who took seven or
more aspirin a week were 28% less likely to develop
breast cancer than those who didn't. Once-a-week
users were 20% less likely to develop breast cancer.
Daily use of aspirin can lead to life-threatening,
invisible gastro-intestinal bleeding, so it is
risky to prescribe it for yourself; please don't.
Complementary medicines for those dancing with
cancer and chemo/radiation/surgery are becoming
more popular, less threatening to many oncologists.
For safety sake, when wise women ingest herbs,
we avoid pills and capsules, choosing instead
nourishing herbal infusions, tinctures, or vinegars.
A less invasive way to deal with many breast
tumors using hot radio waves may be available
soon, along with better tests to pinpoint which
women will benefit from chemotherapy, and a better
way to schedule surgery. Thinking of taking tamoxifen
to prevent breast cancer? Think again.
The most successful remedies in Breast
Cancer? Breast Health! the Wise Woman Way
* One dropperful of milk thistle seed tincture
taken within the hour before chemotherapy.
* Application of Hypericum oil on skin the hour
before radiation treatments.
* Consumption of 4 quarts of red clover infusion
a week--before, during, and after treatment.
* Combining surgery with energy healing techniques
such as prayer, visualization, ritual, homeopathy,
candle burning, affirmation, distant Reiki.
Heat created by radio waves -- ultrasound-guided
RF ablation -- has been found to destroy breast
tumors safely and effectively. Earlier studies
found success in treating large breast tumors;
this study focused on tumors 2 centimeters and
under. Surgical removal of the ablated tissues
from twenty women found active cancer cells in
only one of the margins.
"Radiofrequency (RF) ablation may safely
destroy small breast tumors," Cornell
University Women's Health Advisor, 2004. (see
April, 2004 Radiology)
Ruth Helmann, an oncologist at the University
of Chicago Medical Center wants to stop administering
chemotherapy to "the many patients who would
do just as well without it." She's found
that ninety percent of women whose tumors have
few blood vessels, but high amounts of two cellular
proteins, are alive fourteen years after their
mastectomy; while only 44 percent of those lacking
the markers survived. Those without the markers
benefit more from chemotherapy.
"Cutting Back on Chemotherapy," Josie
Glausiusz, Discover, April 2000
There is some evidence that removing breast cancer
masses at certain times of the menstrual cycle
can increase survival rates. Of premenopausal
women who had surgery between days 0-2 or after
day 12 of their cycle, 75% were alive ten years
later, while only 45% of those who had surgery
between days 3 and 12 reached the ten year anniversary.
This held true irrespective of whether the cancers
were hormone positive or not.
"Timing Breast Cancer Surgery," HealthNews,
January 2000, reporting on a study in Cancer,
November 15, 1999.
Women taking tamoxifen are more than twice as
likely to be diagnosed with endometrial/uterine
cancer and have nearly three times the rates of
blood clots in their lungs (embolisms). In rats,
long-term use has triggered liver cancer.
"Tamoxifen as a Breast Cancer Preventive
-- Many Questions Remain," HealthFacts,
Ductal lavage, a new technique that "washes"
cells from the duct, was heralded as a "noninvasive"
test for very early breast cancer, but has failed
to prove viable in clinical settings.
"Wishing for Change in 2005," Lauren
John, Breast Cancer Action News, Jan. 2005
"Epidemiologists and other scientists increasingly
believe many cases [of breast cancer] are linked
to environmental factors." State of the Evidence,
What is the Connection Between the Environment
and Breast Cancer may be downloaded at www.bcaction.org/PDF/Stateof
Evidence.pdf or by calling (in the USA) 877-278-6722.
prospect that vitamin pills may not only do no
good but also kill their consumers is a scary
speculation, given the vast quantities that are
used in certain communities."
"While diets rich in antioxidant
nutrients have consistently shown tremendous protection
against cancer and heart disease, clinical trials
utilizing antioxidant vitamins and minerals have
produced inconsistent results." Lancet,
Oct. 2, 2004.
Researchers in Japan, after interviewing more
than one hundred men and women older than 100,
found that of four dietary preference patterns
-- for cereals, beverages, dairy products, or
vegetables -- "those preferring dairy products
had the highest survival rate."
Organic Products Retailer, 2004
"A protein present in cow's milk, as well
as in human breast milk, stimulates bone-forming
cells in lab dishes and induces bone growth when
injected into mice."
The iron-binding protein, named lactoferrin,
found by Jillian Cornish at the University of
Auckland in New Zealand, is one of a number of
"unknown substances in milk [which] appear
to directly stimulate the activity of osteoblasts,
the cells that form new bone." These substances
also protect bone cells from death and inhibit
the generation of osteoclasts, cells that resorb
bone. "We were absolutely stunned. It's a
very potent molecule."
"Got Milk? Dairy protein provides bone-forming
boost," J Travis, Science
A report in the International Journal of Cancer
identifies milk drinking as an excellent way to
halve your risk of breast cancer. But don't let
that stop you from enjoying cheese and yogurt.
They count too! A cup of yogurt a day, plus two
cups of nourishing herbal infusion can keep your
bones strong for a long, long time.
"Milk: It does your breasts good,"
Health, January/February 2002.
"More than just protecting bones, vitamin
D is proving to preserve muscle strength and to
give people some protection against deadly diseases
including multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes, and
Many of the studies cited in this two-part series
supported a trend: that high levels of vitamin
D protect bone indirectly, by improving muscle
strength, as well as directly. Women taking 800IU
of vitamin D daily during a three month trial
were half as likely to fall according to the February
2003 Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. Falls
are a leading cause of hip fracture.
Laboratory evidence points to a strong role played
by vitamin D in helping to prevent breast, prostrate,
and colon cancer, too. Fifteen minutes of sunlight
on bare skin in the summer will harvest plenty
of vitamin D for then and for the winter months,
too. To reap the benefits of sunlight, wise women
limit their use of sunscreen.
"Vitamin Boost: New Vitamin D Benefits,"
Janet Raloff, Science News, October
A study published in the January 2, 2002 Journal
of the American Medical Association found that
older women who consume high levels of vitamin
A from supplements, or supplements and food combined,
are 48 percent more likely to fracture a hip than
those who consumed less.
"Too Much Vitamin A Raises Hip-Fracture
Risk." HealthNews, March 2002.
For lots of vitamins and minerals, protein and
plant hormones, nothing beats a glass of nourishing
herbal infusion, the WiseWoman Way. I use one
ounce, dry weight, of any one herb -- nettle,
oatstraw, red clover, linden, chickweed, mullein,
comfrey leaf -- brewed for 4-8 hours in a quart
of boiling water. For further instructions, visit
my website or read any of my books.
"A British researcher studying breast tumors
found high concentrations of preservatives used
in underarm deodorants and other cosmetics, and
another study found evidence that frequent underarm
shaving together with deodorant use could increase
the risk of breast cancer."
Harper's, May 2004.
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