Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Preventing breast cancer

Published:Wednesday | October 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM

DESPITE ALL the emphasis on the early detection of breast cancer with annual campaigns and rousing slogans, the incidence of this deadly disease continues to rise at an alarming rate - more than 60 per cent in the last 60 years.

It is clear that the old approach is not working. Most of our resources are spent on tests for early detection. I believe that if groups like the Ministry of Health and the Jamaica Cancer Society put more genuine effort into really promoting prevention, rather than just early detection and treatment, more could be accomplished.

Medical research indicates that a woman's risk of developing cancer is largely under her control. It's all about choices. If you make the lifestyle choices that promote cancer, you'll probably get cancer. If you make informed, healthy choices, you are much more likely to avoid this deadly disease.

Amazingly, many people, even some doctors, still don't acknowledge the huge connection between lifestyle choices and chronic diseases like cancer.

Some still believe disease is just a matter of chance, or that it's entirely determined by your genes. That's not true. Breast cancer can be prevented!

The data indicate that our cancer risk is over 90 per cent related to lifestyle and environment and less than 10 per cent associated with our genes.

What causes breast cancer?

The evidence is overwhelming that the female sex hormone, oestrogen, is closely connected to the development of most cases of breast cancer.

Excess oestrogen encourages the cells in the breast to multiply more rapidly, and it is the oestrogen-dependent type of breast cancer that is the most common type today.

The average woman in today's world is exposed to more oestrogen than ever before, especially to unhealthier or 'bad' forms of oestrogen. This puts our women at serious risk. The following are some risk factors for breast cancer that are not often emphasised. They may be divided into three categories:

Dietary and environmental factors

These include: a diet high in animal fat (beef, poultry and dairy products) contaminated with undisclosed cancer-causing and oestrogen-like chemicals; exposure in the home to household chemicals such as cleansers, aerosols and pesticides, or pollution from neighbouring chemical plants; exposure at the workplace to a wide variety of cancer-causing chemicals.

Lifestyle risk factors

Alcohol and tobacco consumption, especially with early and excessive use; inactivity, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle; the use of dark hair dyes, with early and prolonged use; prolonged stress, when inadequately managed; low levels of vitamin D from avoidance of sunshine, is a major risk factor for breast cancer, especially in black women.

Medical risk factors

Oral contraceptives, especially with early and prolonged use; oestrogen replacement therapy commonly used in menopausal women, especially with high doses and prolonged use; early and repeated exposure to mammograms before menopause. The National Cancer Institute in the United States released evidence that, among women under 35, mammography could cause 75 cases of breast cancer for every 15 cases it identifies; silicone breast implants, especially those using polyurethane foam; certain non-hormonal prescription drugs such as some hypertension medicines, antibiotics, tranquilisers, antidepressants, cholesterol lowering drugs, and the very drugs used to treat cancer itself. Yes, patients on chemotherapy drugs for cancer have an increased risk of developing another type of cancer.

The onus is on every woman to make a serious commitment to avoid these factors that are known to put them at risk of developing breast cancer. The really sad thing is that the factors listed above relate not only to breast cancer but also to fibrocystic disease of the breast, uterine fibroids, premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis and cancer of the uterus, among others. Interestingly, many of these factors also put our men at risk for prostate cancer and low sperm counts.

A simple plan

Engage in daily moderate exercise and vigorous physical activity at least once per week.

Maintain normal body weight and/or keep your weight within 10 pounds of the weight you were at age 18.

Eat five or more servings of vegetables and fruit daily.

Supplement your diet with anti-cancer foods like soy, green tea, turmeric and anti-cancer supplements like the antioxidants, vitamin D, omega 3 fats, and Coenzyme Q10.

Limit your daily consumption of unhealthy animal fats and red meats.

Minimise your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day.

Refrain from cigarette smoking and get some sunshine each day.

Research suggests that older women may reduce their risk of dying from cancer by almost half by simply not smoking, controlling body weight, exercising and having a healthy, balanced diet.

Cancer probably doesn't need to exist at all and actually should be a rarity except for that fact that most women actually give themselves cancer by making poor choices in life.

It is now estimated that one in three women will develop cancer during her lifetime. It is, therefore, important that we, as a society, spend much more effort time and money on preventing this disease.

You may email Dr Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 pm. His book 'An Ounce of Prevention - for women and men' are available locally and on the Internet.