Proper diet and nutrition, exercise, assessment of risk factors and screening with mammograms and self-exams are all important for breast health. Research shows that a woman who is over 40, or whose mother or sister has had breast cancer, may be at greater risk, but this does not mean the woman will develop breast cancer. The purpose of knowing your risk factors is to help devise a breast health program suited to each woman’s individual needs.
A growing body of evidence suggests that breast cancer in many cases is preventable. For example, studies suggesting that eating a low-fat diet, and a high ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega 6 fatty acids in a diet may help reduce the risk of breast cancer. Many knowledgeable healthcare practitioners recommend supplements to support breast health.
Unequal Risks for Breast Cancer Associated with Different Forms of Hormone Therapies
Many forms of hormone therapy are available for the treatment of menopausal symptoms and the proper selection of hormones is critical. To determine whether some hormones are more harmful than others regarding breast cancer risk, data was reviewed from a study of 80,377 postmenopausal women. The findings suggest that it could be preferable to use natural progesterone instead of a synthetic progestin as part of hormone therapy.
The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) reported that women who take conjugated equine estrogens (“estrogen” from pregnant mares’ urine) and the synthetic progestin medroxyprogesterone acetate have an increased risk of breast cancer. Recently, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that when breast cancer does occur in women taking synthetic hormones (such as progestins which are NOT found in humans), the cancer is more likely to be node-positive and have a higher risk of mortality.
Protective Effect of Vitamin D Against Breast Cancer
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with elevated risk of about 20 types of cancer, according to Dr. John Cannell, vitamin D expert and director of the Vitamin D Council. Dr. Cannell suggests adults need around 5000 IU per day of vitamin D3 to maintain healthy body functions and even higher doses may be needed to fight diseases.
Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with elevated breast cancer risk, and women who have an aggressive form of breast cancer are eight times more likely to be diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency. African-American women are at a higher risk because their skin color reduces the efficiency of the absorption of UV rays, which are needed for the body to produce vitamin D.
Not only does vitamin D inhibit breast cancer cells from growing, it makes those cells grow and die more like natural cells. Furthermore, vitamin D inhibits the formation of excessive blood vessel growth around the cancerous tumor, a process called anti-angiogenesis.
In 2004, a group at the University Hospital in Quebec confirmed that vitamin D, especially when taken with calcium, significantly reduced abnormal mammograms. In fact they found women with the highest vitamin D intake had only one fourth as many abnormal densities on their mammogram as did women with the lowest intake.
Researchers in Norway discovered that women who were diagnosed with breast cancer during the summer and fall, the season where vitamin D levels are the highest, had the best prognosis. The researchers concluded that high vitamin D levels during the course of cancer treatment may improve the prognosis of women with breast cancer, plus, both colon cancer and prostate cancer showed similar improvements.
Note: Vitamin D is not a cure-all and should never be used as the main treatment for cancer. Oncologists prescribe treatments with proven efficacy that should be considered the mainstay of therapy. At the same time, evidence suggests that the proper amount of vitamin D may help in the fight against breast cancer.
We work together with patients and practitioners to individualize Bioidentical Hormone Therapy and other medications to meet specific needs. We welcome your questions and your medication problems.