Most breast cancer risks relate to a woman's reproductive history. An early first period, late first pregnancy, few (or no) children and late menopause are all associated with an increased likelihood of breast cancer. Other risk factors are oral contraceptive use, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), obesity and high alcohol consumption.
Diet is important, too, as shown in the findings of a recent Harvard study that oriental women who give up their traditional soya and vegetable diet in favor of western eating patterns increase their breast disease risk by up to 90 per cent (please read more on the diet page).
What to expect if your doctor diagnosis breast cancer
The mainstay of conventional breast cancer treatment is surgery.
Surgery carries the risk of post-operative infection, while chemotherapy and radiotherapy have many unpleasant side effects and may cause permanent damage for a few per cent of patients. Whilst natural remedies should not be thought of as an alternative to conventional treatment for breast cancer, they can help to prevent it and there is some evidence that they may help to combat the spread of the disease (metastasis) to other organs.
Black cohosh can reduce your risk of breast cancer by over 60%
Black cohosh root extract is widely used as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), to reduce menopause symptoms. Recently, US scientists at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School who carried out a case control study on almost 2,500 women, found that those who took supplements of black cohosh had an astounding 61 per cent reduction in their breast cancer risk (Int J Cancer 2007; 120(7): 1523-1528).
Black cohosh contains two kinds of biologically active compounds, called triterpene glycosides and cinnamic acid esters. Both of these plant chemicals have been shown in laboratory experiments to reduce the growth of human breast cancer cells and to increase the rate at which these cells die off (Biol Pharmaceut Bull 2004; 27(12): 1970).
The recommended daily dosage is 100mg to 250mg of black cohosh root extract, standardized to contain 2.5 per cent triterpene glycosides. Black cohosh should not be taken during pregnancy.
Vitamin D helps block the growth of blood vessels that feed breast cancer cells
Upping your vitamin D intake may also help to ward off breast cancer. A study at Birmingham University and St Georges Hospital, London, discovered that breast tissue contains an enzyme that converts vitamin D to its active form, calcitriol, which is a potent anti-cancer agent (J Nutr 2006: 136: 887-892). Levels of the enzyme were elevated in breast tumours suggesting that calcitriol is produced as a natural defense mechanism to combat the spread of cancer.
Other research has shown that calcitriol not only inhibits breast cancer cells from multiplying, it also makes those cells grow and die more like natural cells. What's more, vitamin D inhibits the growth of blood vessels that feed the cancerous tumor a process called anti angiogenesis (Braz J Med Biol Res 2002; 35(1): 1-9).
According to a population study published earlier this year, vitamin D exposure through diet, supplements and sunshine is directly related to a reduced risk of breast cancer (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2007;16(3):4229). Vitamin D acts as a hormone in the body and too much of it can lead to calcium being deposited in the arteries, so its important not to overdose on it. Take no more than 10mcg to 30mcg daily (400 IU to 1200 IU).
Curcumin the curry powder remedy that can switch off breast cancer genes
Specifically, curcumin appears to be able to prevent the uncontrolled growth of breast tumor cells, to restore the normal mechanism by which cells die and to prevent cancer spread (metastasis) through the blood stream and lymphatic system (Clin Cancer Res 2005; 11: 7490-7498). Take 500mg to 1,000mg of curcumin a day.
Green tea contains anti-cancer polyphenols, the most important of which is called epigallocatechin gallate. Recent studies have found that green tea extract effectively destroys breast cancer cells in the laboratory (J Agric Food Chem. 2007; 55(2): 243-253) and reduces the size of breast cancer tumours in mice (J Agric Food Chem. 2007; 55(9): 3378-3385).
An epidemiological study in South-East China, published this year, concluded that the regular consumption of green tea has a protective effect against breast cancer (Carcinogenesis 2007; 28(5): 1074-1078). Drink three cups of green tea a day, or take 400mg to 800mg of standardised green tea extract daily.