If you follow organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Koman Foundation, you would think that developing breast cancer is left completely to chance.
However, this flies completely and absolutely in the face of a large body of evidence that supports that lifestyle plays a huge role in the development of cancer. I have reviewed many of these in the past. Some studies look at general recommendations and some look at very specific recommendations.
The links to breast cancer can be protective, like exercise or a plant-based diet, or they can increase the risk of developing cancer, such as smoking or BPA in plastic water bottles. The risks or protection can also be unmodifiable or modifiable, such as sun exposure (most likely due to vitamin D) or soy exposure as a teen or the fact that you used to smoke. You can’t go back and modify this risk, although you can accept that choices you have made in the past have contributed to your risk. This knowledge can then be used to help the next generation to avoid the risks or partake in the beneficial activities.
Many times the studies looking at general changes show a substantial reduction in the risk for developing breast cancer. This can be 30, 40 or even 70% or more. I always contend that these benefits are seen with just the general recommendations. When you add in the other studies that look at the smaller contributors and get much more specific about an overall lifestyle that lowers your risk of breast cancer, the near elimination of breast cancer can be envisioned.
And yet, this story is not what is promoted by the organizations tasked with educating you about breast cancer and the organizations that take your millions and millions of dollars in the name of breast cancer. All this money is wasted on the myth of a “cure” and early detection. Maybe it’s a conflict of interest by large commercial donors? Maybe it’s the fear of not giving out information until it is absolutely, positively set in stone (as a reminder—it took some 40-50 years before the full message on the dangers of cigarette smoking to be mainstream—so don’t hold your breath).
I have always maintained that we still need research. But we need it to determine why those who make all these changes still develop breast cancer. Because it happens. But the numbers are so small, THESE women never see a benefit from the research that these organizations spend mass amounts of money on.
It’s a hard call, but what do we do with the other, dominant percentage of breast cancer cases that were a result of egregious lifestyle choices? The smokers and meat and potatoes type that haven’t exercised since grammar school? At what point do we say that the money spent for screening and treatment of these sufferers should go towards research for the small portion of breast cancer patients to answer the really hard “why” questions?
These are rhetorical questions that we may never have an answer for. And maybe it’s putting the cart before the horse. Maybe we’ve done such an incredibly pathetic job of educating the public that breast cancer can be prevented that it’s not a fair position. In this case (and I think this is most likely where the problem lies), the national organizations should NO LONGER GET YOUR MONEY. Unless, of course, they are organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), who put out this particular study.
The AICR, along with the World Cancer Research Fund, had previously put out information about lifestyle behaviors that have a very strong ability to lower your risk of all cancers. Body fatness, physical activity, foods that promote weight gain, plant foods, red and processed meats and limit alcohol intake (2 for men and 1 for women a day). In this study, researchers looked at what happened to the risk of breast cancer when 6 of these recommendations were followed (body fatness, physical activity, foods that promote weight gain, plant foods, red and processed meats, and alcohol). Here’s what they found:
- Risk was cut by a respectable 60% in women who met at least five recommendations.
- When they looked more closely at the data, three recommendations (body fatness, plants foods, moderate alcohol intake) were responsible for almost all of the protection.
- Adherence to just these 3 recommendations cut risk 62% overall.
A measly three lifestyle factors to adhere to cut risk substantially. We can no longer sit behind the glass bubble of “it’s just genetic” when the research on just the most simple changes, is so compelling.
THESE are the types of groups you should be giving your money to. Period.