Daniel Kenner, Ph.D., L.Ac. expert in integrative health and wellness, gives us his view on breast cancer awareness and prevention.
ConsumingPassions will publish on a regular basis (not only in the month October) information about therapies, services or products that help promote optimal breast health, even when they are controversial. Keep an eye on the Blog.
What should we be aware of during Breast Cancer Awareness Month?
The first thing we should be aware of is that Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) originated in 1985 as a public relations and marketing tool of a pharmaceutical company – Astra-Zeneca, the producer of two breast cancer drugs, Tamoxifen and Arimidex. The BCAM website www.nbcam.org still links directly to AtraZeneca’s HealthCare Foundation page. The message of BCAM is that all women should undergo screening with mammograms to detect breast cancer early – subjecting their breasts to radiation-based diagnostic screening that we now know actually causes breast cancer. The mission of BCAM is to make people think that the best way to prevent breast cancer is to “detect it early” and get appropriate “treatment.” Early detection translates as “get a mammogram,” and treatment is with chemotherapy.
According to Dr. Peter Gøtzsche of the Nordic Cochrane Center (The Cochrane Community is an international academic research group with no commercial affiliations), “Mammography screening has been promoted to the public with three simple promises that all appear to be wrong: It saves lives and breasts by catching the cancers early. Screening does not seem to make the women live longer; it increases mastectomies; and cancers are not caught early, they are caught very late. They are also caught in too great numbers. There is so much overdiagnosis that the best thing a woman can do to lower her risk of becoming a breast cancer patient is to avoid going to screening, which will lower her risk by one-third.” *1 Overdiagnosis can result in aggressive and dangerous treatment for women who may have microscopic tumors that might simply disappear or that may not develop for 15 – 20 years *2.
New Screening Tool on the Horizon
Scientists from the University of Copenhagen have succeeded in developing a blood test methodology that can predict if a woman will get breast cancer within two to five years. The method is called a “metabolic blood profile,” and is still in an early stage of development. The research scientists expect it could be used not only to predict breast cancer and more generally to predict chronic disease. In other words it could be a qualitative method to predict if a woman’s condition will lead to a dangerous diagnosis. The new technique involves measuring numerous compounds in the blood to create a global picture of the body’s physiological condition in order to detect recognizable changes in the metabolism that can alert doctors to the presence of a pre-cancerous stage.
The research is based on a study of 57,000 people by the Danish Cancer Society over a 20-year period. The participants were first examined in 1994-96, during which time their weight and other measurements were recorded and they answered a questionnaire. They also provided a blood sample that was stored in liquid nitrogen. The scientists used the 20-year-old blood specimens and other available data from 400 women who were healthy when they were first examined but who were diagnosed with breast cancer two to seven years after providing the first sample, and also compared to 400 women who did not develop breast cancer.
According to Rasmus Bro, a professor of chemometrics in the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen, “The method is better than mammography, which can only be used when the disease has already occurred. It is not perfect, but it is truly amazing that we can predict breast cancer years into the future.” The new method involves handling and analyzing large amounts of biological data using a holistic model. No single part of the pattern is sufficient. It is the whole pattern that predicts the cancer. The researchers analyzed all compounds a blood sample contains instead of — as is often done in health and medical science — examining what a single biomarker means in relation to a specific disease. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark say the new test can predict breast cancer’s onset 2 to 5 years in advance with 80% accuracy. Mammograms can spot the disease itself, i.e. at a late stage, with 75% accuracy. The new method of cancer screening may become available within a couple of years. *3
“The message of Breast Cancer Awareness Month focuses on treatment rather than prevention.”Dr. Daniel Kenner
A Red Herring
The message of Breast Cancer Awareness Month focuses on treatment rather than prevention. Conventional treatment is based on the goal of tumor reduction. Natural medicine practitioners will argue that the tumors are a result of the disease but are definitely not the disease. Tumor reduction is an important part of treatment but alone is insufficient as a treatment. The fixation on tumor reduction misses the point and ignores the metabolic condition of the patient that causes the life-threatening condition that originally generated the tumors.
So where should we put our attention? Prevention obviously trumps treatment. The important prevention factor is to avoid exposure to carcinogens. Some of the chemicals that are directly linked with breast cancer include chemicals in plastics (BPA, phthalates, vinyl chloride, dioxin, styrene, and more), chemicals in cosmetics (deodorants, shaving creams, shampoos, lipsticks, sunscreens and many other cosmetic contain dangerous chemicals such as phthalates, dioxane, triclosan, parabens, ethylene oxide, lead, much more), chemicals in household products (flame retardants, detergents, cookware coatings, dry-cleaning chemicals, dyes, mercury, lead), chemicals in food, air and water exposure (dioxins from breakdown of chlorine, found in water and air, pesticides including DDT, vinyl chloride, tobacco smoke, lots more), medical care exposures (X-Rays, bio-identical hormones, oral contraceptives, infertility drugs, the dental sealer BPA , the disinfectant ethylene oxide, phthalates in plastic medical tubing, mercury and more). It should be obvious how ubiquitous the threats to health and specifically to breast health are even in our home environment. *4
The Role of Lifestyle
We have been programmed with the myth of genetic determinism: the idea that our genes determine our health, our behavior and our future. Since that myth has been scientifically discredited, we have increasingly heard the term “epigenetics.” We know that genes express themselves according to the internal environment. No gene is a death sentence. When we hear the term “epigenetics” we should substitute the word “lifestyle” because a gene will express itself in a negative manner in a toxic environment, but if the internal environment of the body has in a healthy condition, genes will not have an environment that allows them a negative expression.
Let’s look at the dreaded BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, so-called breast cancer genes. The rates of breast, colon and prostate cancer in the U.S. are between 7 to 60 times higher than they are in Japan. According to statistics, Japanese men who die before 50 of causes other than cancer have just as many precancerous microtumors as men in the West. Something in their diet or lifestyle prevents them from developing into cancer or their cancer rate would be the same as ours; but the cancer rate of Asian men who have settled in the West catches up within a generation or two. And when Asians developed cancer, their tumors tend to be much less aggressive than Westerners’. In fact, wherever green tea was drunk abundantly, there was a lower incidence of cancer.
According to an epidemiological study, among women carrying the high risk breast cancer genes (BRCA-1 and BRCA-2), the risk of developing breast cancer before the age of 50 tripled for women born after World War II compared to women born before the war. Two possible explanations for this are the post-war industrialization of the food supply and the general increase in environmental pollution *5. Clearly, lifestyle is the key issue. An additional important factor in breast cancer prevention is the fact that the Japanese diet, with daily consumption of sea vegetables like nori, wakame and kombu, is very high in iodine, a mineral needed in abundance by breast tissue as well as the thyroid and other tissues *6, *7.
People who take vitamins have, in general a lower risk of the occurrence of cancer, but there are a couple of specific supplements that have exceptional benefit.
One of the best supplements for cancer prevention is flax seed. Clinical trials show that taking 25 grams per day of flaxseed (containing 50 mg lignans) for 32 days reduces tumor growth in breast cancer patients *8. Lignans are important chemical constituents of flax seeds with well-established cancer-preventive properties. Lignans lower estrogen production. Lignans also block aromatase, the enzyme involved in the production of estrogen. Blocking the enzyme lowers estrogen production. High estrogen levels have been linked to the growth of breast cancer *9. Be sure to grind the seeds. A small electric coffee grinder is well-suited to this purpose.
Another supplement with extremely promising benefits is coenzyme Q-10 (ubiquinone). In 1993, 32 patients with advanced, “high risk” breast cancer were treated in Copenhagen with coenzyme Q10. Each patient was given antioxidants, fatty acids, as well as 90 mg of CoQ10 per day.
Six of these 32 patients showed partial tumor regressions on this regimen—slightly better than one-fourth of the women. One of these six, a 59-year-old woman identified as “K.M.” in the report, then increased her dosage of CoQ10 to 390 mg per day in October, 1993. Remarkably, by November, 1993, doctors wrote, “the tumor was no longer palpable and in December of last year, mammography confirmed the absence of tumor.”*10
As the authors themselves pointed out, “breast cancer caused about 180,000 deaths in 1993, more than that of any other category of cancer. Even if the lives of only one out of five breast cases were saved by CoQ10 that would be about 36,000 women and mothers.” Dr. Knud Lockwood, lead author of the study, noted that he has treated around 200 cases of breast cancer per year for the last 35 years. He had “never seen a spontaneous complete regression of a 1.5 to 2.0 centimeter breast tumor or a comparable regression on any conventional antitumor therapy.”*11
“There is much more to say about exercise, supplementation and emotional health in cancer prevention. If people learn how to create health and well-being, they are also learning how to prevent disease. “Dr. Daniel Kenner
The information presented in this article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, case reports, and/or traditional usage with sources as cited in each topic. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals and different individuals with the same medical conditions with the same symptoms will often require differing treatments. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with conventional medical therapies, including prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications, is also available. Consult your physician, an appropriately trained healthcare practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health concern or medical problem before using any herbal products or nutritional supplements or before making any changes in lifestyle or other forms of self-care or prescribed medications. References are provided to assist the reader in doing his own research.
1. Gøtzsche P, Mammography screening is harmful and should be abandoned, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 108: 341-345; 2015. http://community.cochrane.org/news/blog/mammography-screening-ten-years-reflections-decade-2001-review
2. Richard Wender, M.D., chief cancer control officer, American Cancer Society; Harold Burstein, M.D., Ph.D., senior physician, Breast Oncology program, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston; Joann Elmore, M.D., MPH, professor, medicine, and adjunct professor, epidemiology, University of Washington, Seattle; 2015, Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.
3. Rasmus B, Kamstrup-Nielsen M, Engelsen S, et al, Forecasting individual breast cancer risk using plasma metabolomics and biocontours, Metabolomics,;2015; DOI: 10.1007/s11306-015-0793-8
5. King M, Marks J, Mandell J, et al, Breast and ovarian cancer risks due to inherited mutations in BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, Science 302(5645): 643-646; 2003.
6. Eskin B, et al, Rat mammary gland atypia produced by iodine blockade with perchlorate, Cancer Research 35(9):2332-9; 1975.
7. Ohshima M, Ward J, Dietary Iodine Deficiency as a Tumor Promoter and Carcinogen in Male F344/NCr Rats, Cancer Research 46, 877-883; 1986.
8. Thompson L, Chen J, Li T, Strasser-Weippl K, Goss P, Dietary flaxseed alters tumor biological markers in postmenopausal breast cancer. Clinical Cancer Research 11(10):3828-3385; 2005. PMID: 15897583
9. Jungeström M, Thompson L, Dabrosin C, Flaxseed and its lignans inhibit estradiol-induced growth, angiogenesis, and secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor in human breast cancer xenografts in vivo. Clinical Cancer Research 1;13(3):1061-7; 2007; PMID: 17289903
10. Lockwood K, Moesgaard S, Hanioka T, Folkers K, Apparent partial remission of breast cancer in “high risk” patients supplemented with nutritional antioxidants, essential fatty acids and coenzyme Q10, Molecular Aspects of Medicine 15 Suppl: S231-S240; 1994.
11. Lockwood K, Moesgaard S, Folkers K, Partial and complete regression of breast cancer in patients in relation to dosage of coenzyme Q10, Biochem Biophys Res Commun 199(3): 1504-1508; 1994.
About Dr.Daniel Kenner
Daniel Kenner Ph.D., L.Ac. is one of Consuming Passions team members and experts in integrative health and wellness with 30 years of clinical experience in both Oriental and Naturopathic Medicine. He graduated in 1979 the Meiji College of Oriental Medicine in Japan, passed the national licensing examination and then trained in internships at Osaka Medical University Pain Clinic and Kinki University Medical Teaching Hospital. He was one of the first foreigners ever to be licensed by the Japanese government. Dan also has a Ph.D. in Naturopathic Medical Science from First National University of Naturopathic Medical Sciences and a well respected member of the Board of Governors of the National Health Federation. Since 1983 he has endeavored to integrate the naturopathic medical traditions of North America and Europe with the traditional medicine of East Asia.
In addition to authoring numerous articles, Dan is author of The Whole-Body Workbook for Cancer (New Harbinger, 2009), The Science of AHCC, Basic Health Publications, 2009, Acupuncture Core Therapy (Paradigm, 2008), AHCC – The Japanese Medicinal Mushroom Immune Enhancer (Woodland, 2001) and Botanical Medicine: A European Professional Perspective (Paradigm, 1996).
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