Breast Cancer Awareness Month sells the idea that early detection is the best protection, but can we take matters into our own hands?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month; when celebrities and businesses hold fundraisers and promote early detection in a bid to end the disease. The first Awareness Month was in 1985, 34 years ago. However, most of us feel that there is still no end in sight to breast cancer (or any cancer). Another round of tests or treatment; another friend, relative, or celebrity diagnosed. It could be just another day when you dread coming home from work or school in anticipation that a loved one with cancer has died. 

Is this really all there is? Or do we have the power to prevent the disease – a power that’s being hidden from us? 

The Origins Of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was founded through a partnership between the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries. This corporation is responsible for producing carcinogens such as pesticides and vinyl chloride from petrochemicals and marketing them as “safe”. In 1999, their pharmaceutical division Zeneca Group merged with Astra AB to create AstraZeneca. We know them today as the producers of Tamoxifen and Arimidex, two cash-cows prescribed for breast cancer

There isn’t much interest in prevention. The term yields four results on the current NBCAM site’s blog (only one being about prevention), compared to 29 when “mammogram” is searched. Instead, the masses are placated with hope for a cure, as long as they donate or purchase “pink ribbon” themed items. 

Perhaps the most ridiculous of these is KFC’s Bucket for the Cure. Deep-fried chicken is very high in advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which are formed by a reaction between sugars and proteins. These get caught in our bodies’ tissues and cause damage through inflammation and oxidative stress. Lab studies even suggest that exposure to AGEs fuels the growth of breast cancer

While there is nothing inherently wrong with early detection, prevention should be the top priority for breast cancer. Why not take matters into our own hands and drive down our chances of having to suffer not only the illness but also the stress of tests and treatment? 

How Toxic Chemicals Fuel Breast Cancer

Maia Boswell-Penc, author of Tainted Milk: Breastmilk, Feminisms, and the Politics of Environmental Degradation, explains that there is a strong link between breast cancer and:

A host of environmental toxins – including mercury, from burning coal and oil; lead, from paint and plumbing; cadmium; arsenic; bisphenol A (BPAs) and phthalates; polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs); perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), used in floor cleaners and non-stick pans; polyvinylchloride (PVC or vinyl); fungicides; pesticides and chemicals used in personal care and cleaning products.

Many of these contribute to breast cancer by damaging DNA or disrupting pathways that normally keep cells from turning rogue. Others affect hormonal signaling and are known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) or simply endocrine disruptors. 

We are being exposed to these toxins all the time, particularly in certain jobs. A case-control study in Canada found that occupations associated with high exposure to carcinogens and EDCS are strongly linked to breast cancer development. Agricultural jobs were related to a 36 percent higher breast cancer risk. Metalwork was linked to a 73 percent higher rate. Food canning, plastics manufacturing, and working in bars or gambling establishments, where there is second-hand smoke, more than doubled the risk. 

Regardless of our occupation, we are all exposed to breast-unfriendly toxins to certain degrees. Some of them are: 

  • Certain chemicals in plastics: one, BPA, behaves like estrogen and promotes breast tissue growth. Phthalates, found in soft plastics, double the risk of breast cancer. 
  • Cadmium, a heavy metal that accumulates in tobacco plants. Conventional fertilizers; pigments for plastics, ceramics, and glassware; and components of electronic devices (recycle them, don’t throw away) contain cadmium too. 
  • PBDE: a flame retardant found in products including mattresses, PBDE (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers) mimics estrogen and may increase levels of the hormone. 
  • PAHS: a by-products of cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and grilling foods. PAHS (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) contribute to breast cancer risk by damaging DNA
  • PFAS and PFOAs: found in non-stick, water-resistant and stain-resistant items such as cookware. PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) make estrogen more potent and promotes breast cancer cell growth and migration, while PFOAs (perfluorooctanoic acid) could harm the developing breast. 
  • Certain pesticides. The organophosphates chlorpyrifos and terbufos not only disrupt hormonal signaling but also cause oxidative stress and DNA damage. Use of any residential (e.g. garden or lawn) pesticides is linked to a 39 percent higher breast cancer risk

How Can We Detox From These Chemicals?

The first step is avoidance where possible. Ways to reduce your exposure to toxins include:

  • Go organic where possible. One study found that even just switching to an organic diet for one week can significantly reduce pesticide metabolites in children. 
  • Quit smoking. 
  • Reduce your plastics exposure.
  • Use non-toxic cookware. 
  • Switch to natural personal care products. 
  • Change to an organic mattress when your current one has had its day. 
  • Purchase a reverse osmosis water filter to remove toxins from the water you use for drinking and cooking. 

We can’t completely avoid environmental pollutants that contribute to illnesses such as breast cancer unless everyone stopped buying them and a large-scale cleanup event was launched. Our bodies even produce their own toxins, including byproducts of metabolism, old hormones, and substances made by intestinal bacteria. Therefore, we must also keep our detoxification processes healthy. 

One way to detox is by working up a sweat! Whether you use a sauna or exercise, sweating excretes toxins that aren’t so easily cleared by urine. Sweat can pull out over ten times the amount of cadmium when compared to urine samples, for example. Other toxins removed in sweat include mercury, BPA, and flame-retardants. It also improves blood circulation, which boosts oxygen and nutrient delivery while enhancing detoxification. 

Other detoxification boosters include:

  • Dry skin brushing, which can be used alongside sweating to mobilize toxins stuck in tissues or stagnant lymph fluid. 
  • Clays such as bentonite and zeolite; these both draw toxins out from the skin and work for internal use. They trap toxins in the digestive tract so they will be eliminated instead of reabsorbed. 
  • Increasing your fiber intake prevents toxins excreted in bile from being reabsorbed too. Stick to fresh fruit and vegetables; fries and fruit juice don’t count! 
  • Improve your glutathione status. The herb milk thistle (Silybum marianum) increases glutathione production, while coffee enemas trigger glutathione-S-transferase, which stimulates bile excretion. Glutathione is an antioxidant that protects the liver and plays a role in removing toxins. You can increase your levels of glutathione by taking N-acetyl cysteine or by finding protein-rich in glutamic acid sources, cysteine and/or glycine; whey is particularly high in cysteine. These are the three amino acids that makeup glutathione. You also need vitamin C, selenium, and vitamin B1 to produce it. 
  • Optimize your intake of other nutrients involved in liver detoxification, including folate, lipoic acid, and sulfur compounds, such as those in garlic, cruciferous vegetables, and eggs. 

We are not powerless in the face of breast cancer because it is not “bad luck.” We do not have to rely on hope for a cure or early detection. There are ways we can reduce the risk of breast cancer, from both a personal and environmental perspective. Changing our personal habits doesn’t just help ourselves, however. When we become conscious consumers, we increase the demand for safe, healthy products while reducing that for carcinogen-filled items. We can also educate our friends and loved ones, as well as advocate for bans and boycotts of toxic products.

Alexandra Preston is an Australian naturopath, passionate about empowering others to take charge of their health and healing the planet. Her special area of interest in natural health is antiaging; she also loves the beach and is a semi-professional dancer.

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