BRCA1, BRCA2 and Breast Cancer Risk; Are You Doomed?

The answer to the above question is, of course, a strong yes.  After all, if Angelina Jolie decided to have her breasts removed and the medical community performed the procedure, it must be that severe.

In addition, if you follow the American Cancer Society and the Komen Foundation, you get the idea that all you need to do is get your mammograms on time and everything will be ok.  That way, when you do find breast cancer, you’ve caught it early and your chance of survival is better.  Having just had another close experience with the Komen foundation, the vast majority of walkers in the 3-day still don’t REALLY understand that breast cancer is preventable.  It naturally follows that, if it’s not preventable, we have to develop a miraculous cure.  This miraculous cure will only be found with untold hundreds of millions of dollars being pumped into research and development.

That’s not to say that these organizations do not put money into prevention research and education, but it’s a much smaller portion with a minor emphasis.  Contrast this with the American Institute for Cancer Research, and across the top of the website you get a clear idea that prevention reigns supreme.

As mentioned, many think that breast cancer is inevitable, especially if they have a strong family history or, worse yet, the “breast cancer genes” BRCA1 and BRCA2.  Those women with BRCA mutations (side note: I hate the world “mutations” because it makes it sound like some time of villain in a superhero movie who can’t control the 5 appendages due to a genetic mutation…) have about a 5 times greater risk of developing breast cancer, so the risks are real.

But are they modifiable?

According to this particular study, very much so.  In the Korean Hereditary Breast Cancer Study, enrolling around 2,000 women with hereditary breast cancer, researchers looked at how much soy and animal product intake affected the risk of developing breast cancer in the BRCA gene mutation carriers.  Here’s what they found:

  1. Soy intake whopping 61% lower risk in carriers.
  2. Those with the highest meat consumption led to a 97% higher risk in carriers.
  3. Highest meat consumption led to a 41% higher risk in non-carriers.
  4. These associations were stronger in BRCA2 mutation carriers.
  5. In women who developed breast cancer, the highest intake of soy (but not meat intake) was associated with a 43% lower BRCA-related breast cancer.

Overall, it is clear that the intake of soy and the avoidance of animal products (so basically a plant-based diet) came very close to eliminating the so called “excess” risk associated with the BRCA “mutation.”

As always when I talk about soy, I’m talking about non-processed (i.e. no veggie burgers or veggie hotdogs) and GMO-free soy.  And this study, much like most others, do not take into account the fact that those women who had a longer lifetime exposure to soy were more likely to have the right type of bacteria in their gut to convert protective compounds in soy to the really protective compounds in soy (equol-producers).  If they were able to take this into account, it is likely that the protective effect would’ve been even stronger.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.