Breast cancer prevention tips every woman should know (From Philippine Star, Lifestyle Section, 9 November 1999 ---www.philstar.com)

By Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit

If you are wondering why you have read a lot of literature about breast cancer lately, it is because last month was breast cancer awareness month. From news wires to Oprah and the Internet, tips on prevention, cure, and new discoveries abound.

We have always been told that if our mother, sister, daughter, aunt, or grandmother had breast cancer, then that makes us genetically predisposed to the disease. You might be surprised to know that 80 percent of all breast cancer cases happen to women who are not predisposed to it or even at risk. So whether you have breast cancer in your family medical history or not, the good news is your lifestyle choices can prevent it!

One of my favorite holistic medicine doctors is Dr. Andrew Weil (www.drweilselfhealing. com). He is a medical doctor who believes in natural means to prevent and treat diseases while using the techniques and modalities he learned in med school. He offers eight strategies to reduce the risk of breast cancer:

1) Add anti-cancer fats to your diet.

Dr. Weil informs us that the most recent studies from Sweden, Italy, Greece and Spain attribute daily consumption of a tablespoon of olive oil (10 grams monounsaturated fat) with as much as 50 percent reduction in breast cancer risk! Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon and sardines are also hailed as risk reducers.

The bad fats, on the other hand, other researches say, are the trans-fatty acids found in margarine, snack foods, and baked goods. Regular intake increases the risk by 40 percent. Corn and safflower oils (and other polyunsaturated fats) are likewise linked to increased breast cancer risk.

Dr. Weil stresses the key to prevention is knowing and having the right fats and avoiding the wrong ones. "I suggest getting no more than 20 to 25 percent of your calories from fat. This will reduce the levels of estrogen (high level and aggressive ones linked to breast cancer) circulating in your blood and also help combat obesity, a risk factor for breast cancer among women over 50. In addition, I recommend cooking with extra-virgin olive oil or organic canola oil, another monounsaturated oil. To get a healthy amount of Omega-3s, eat salmon, sardines, or herring two or three times a week. Read labels carefully and reject all products made with partially hydrogenated oils of any kind."

2) Pig out on fresh fruits and vegetables.

"A 1995 study found that Greek women who eat at least five servings of vegetables daily had 46 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who eat only one or two; while women who eat six servings of fruits a day had 35 percent lower risk than those who eat just one piece," Dr. Weil enthuses. Balance your intake between the red, green, yellow, and orange produce to cover a full range of good phytochemicals. Aside from being high in fiber, fruits and vegetables are natural sources of antioxidants that protect cells from damage derived from carcinogens. Broccoli and cabbage also have indoles that lower certain types of estrogen.

3) Load up on fiber.

The benefit of fiber in preventing colon cancer is common knowledge but its link to breast cancer prevention is not. "Fiber apparently binds up estrogen as it travels through the intestinal tract, thus reducing estrogen levels in the blood," Dr. Weil explains. A 1995 study in Australia showed that women with fiber-rich diets have 36 percent less risk than those who don't take a lot of fiber daily. For maximum benefit, Dr. Weil recommends 35 grams of fiber a day, whole grains vs. refined grains, 1/2 cup of wheat bran and beans in the daily diet.

4) Sweat it out!

Naomi Campbell wouldn't like this. For a model looked up to by young girls worldwide, she recklessly said in an interview that she smokes and hates the gym when asked how she maintains her whistle-bait figure. I was aghast! In May 1997, the results of a 14-year study of 25,000 women in Norway were released. Women who exercised at least four hours weekly had a 37 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than inactive ones.

"Exercise tends to lengthen time between menstrual periods, thereby reducing estrogen exposure. Exercise also boosts immune-system activity, and it helps combat obesity, a risk factor for breast cancer," Dr. Weil opines. If I may add, it also reduces stress and tension which is linked to cancer.

Dr. Weil recommends 45-minute walks five days a week. If you are extremely sedentary, build up slowly from bouts of 10 to 15-minute daily walks until you reach 30 to 45. Exert some effort to get your heart pumping to its desired level (target heart rate) but not too much that you can't talk while brisk walking.

5) Drink less, smoke not.

After studying 320,000 women, the Harvard School of Public Health found that breast cancer risk jumps by 41 percent when women drink two to five alcoholic drinks a day. Published only last February, it also claims that even one drink can raise breast cancer risk by nine percent. Dr. Weil warns, "If you are at a higher risk for breast cancer, I recommend avoiding alcohol altogether. Otherwise, I think you can safely have a glass of wine or beer with dinner three or four nights a week."

Though smoking (cigarettes or cigars) is linked more to lung, throat and mouth cancer, tobacco is a known carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent, and should be avoided completely.

6) Not a day without soy!

If you are 50 and over, better not miss a day without it. If you are younger, learn to love it because much of your comfortable future depends on it. What do I mean? Well, if you recall our menopause issue we informed you that there is ongoing research on the beneficial effects of 40 grams of soy a day in alleviating menopausal inconveniences. Soy has natural estrogen that works much like hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) sans the side effects.

And if that alone is not enough, here is another pleasant surprise -- the isoflavones in soy foods can prevent breast cancer! "Isoflavones are plant-derived estrogen that block actions of stronger estrogen and interfere with enzymes involved in cancer growth," Dr. Weil explains. Since mostly women over 50 are the ones who develop breast cancer and by 55 are menopausal, then they should follow Dr. Weil's advice to take a serving of soy a day. That would mean a cup of soy milk or 1/2 cup of tofu or 1/2 cup of green soybeans.

7) Supplement your diet with antioxidants.

In a New York study of the relation of Vitamin E intake to breast cancer prevention it was observed that for those who are genetically predisposed (with relatives suffering or who died from breast cancer) a mere 10 IUs of Vitamin E daily can reduce the risk by 80 percent. Those without family history scored a 40 percent decrease in risk.

"Antioxidants help your body neutralize carcinogens and protect its ability to recognize and eliminate malignant cells," stresses Dr. Weil. He prescribes 1,000 mg of Vitamin C and 25,000 IU of mixed carotene at breakfast, 400 IU of natural Vitamin E and 200 mcg of selenium at lunch, and 1,000 mg again of Vitamin C at dinner.

8) Reduce exposure to foreign estrogen.

If you are a meat lover, Dr. Weil cautions that you may be exposing yourself to "foreign" estrogen from meat, poultry and dairy products with estrogen residues from growth stimulants. Contaminated food, unclean water, and the polluted environment complicate matters. A water purifying system, according to Dr. Weil, is a must.

Information Is Power

Breast cancer has almost reached epidemic levels as one scientist exaggerates. His point of reference is the increase in incidence over the years which he and a lot of others blame on today's lifestyles. Ignorance will be your worst enemy, so I strongly encourage women to learn as much as they can about breast cancer. Of course, the most efficient way to research for data is through the information highway where a long list of free information websites exists sponsored by cancer foundations, survivors, universities and organizations.

Thanks to High School Class '75 of St. Paul College of Manila for making information gathering easy for those who do not have the patience to use the search engines. As a humble tribute to their classmate Ana Pacia who courageously battled the disease until the end, they have pre-screened and selected 15 websites that provide valuable information.

You can reach their site for the complete list at www.homestead.com/spcmhs1975/bci.html. My personal favorites from their list are the sites of University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (www.mdanderson.org/focus/breast), Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (www.mskcc.org), and the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (www.breastcancerinfo.com). Go to the SPCMHS '75 site so you can just click on the icons of any of the 15 sites which offer all types of information from prevention to alternative cure (such as Gerson therapy and the New Tian Xian liquid).

This SPCMHS'75 site won an award as Best of Cyber Pinoys. Congratulations!

Sadly though there is no Philippine-based site providing local information. I tried to the Philippine search engines which immediately supplied a list but I couldn't get through any of the locally hosted sites.

Cancer Screening Can Save Your Life

The earlier the breast cancer is detected, the greater the chances for a successful treatment. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center website provides illustrations on how to check your breasts (as would other medical books). They suggest checking your breasts three days after the last day of bleeding (during the menstrual cycle) or on the first day of each month for post-menopausal women. The best time is under the shower when you can probe row by row or in circles with three soapy fingers every section of your breast for abnormal lumps.

MD Anderson recommends the following periodic screenings:

Breast Self Exam: Monthly.

Clinical Breast Exam By a Doctor: Every 1 to 3 years but Annually after age 40.

Mammogram: Annually after age 40.

Periodic evaluation, self-awareness, and a healthy lifestyle are necessary if we are to face the challenge of breast cancer triumphantly whether in its prevention or its cure.

For inquiries and comments, e-mail mylene@bender-and-strands.com