Angelina Jolie, in her op-ed column in The New York Times, disclosed that she had a prophylactic double mastectomy. Jolie is the carrier of the BRCA1 gene, which substantially increases a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. She lost her mother to breast cancer, and didn't want to subject her children to the same experience. She hits a nerve when she says that cancer is a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness.
Jolie, because she's positive for the BRCA1 gene and has a significant positive family history for breast cancer, chose to mitigate her high risk of developing breast cancer by having a preventative double mastectomy. Though always a complex decision medically and emotionally, she's past her childbearing and breastfeeding years, and the quality of life given by peace of mind that you’ll more than likely be there for your kids is an argument winner for many women over keeping their breasts.
So how do the rest of us prevent breast cancer? Clearly a double mastectomy is not indicated for all of us with breasts — it's major surgery with attendant risks and most of us will never develop breast cancer and do not carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that increase breast cancer risk.
This 8-Step Breast Cancer Prevention Action Plan is health promoting in general, reducing your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer as well. These practices are your daily health affirmation so that breast cancer prevention is just a natural part of a healthy way of life!
1. Eat only high-quality, natural foods, and include olive oil and dark leafy greens every day.
Processed, fast food and nutrient-deficient diets have co-arisen with breast cancer rates. Is there a correlation? Probably. Is there any harm in eating a healthy diet? Nope. And we do know that diets rich in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and good-quality fats, particularly olive oil, can help to reduce damage to your genes and protect against breast cancer.
A number of large studies have looked at the role of fats in the diet. Though the Nurses’ Health Study did not demonstrate an increased risk of breast cancer in women consuming animal fat, polyunsaturated fat, or saturated fat, and even suggested an increased risk of breast cancer from high intake of fish oil in the diet, many other large studies have shown a breast cancer protective effect from olive oil and fish oil. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1995) demonstrated a 25% lower risk of breast cancer in Greek women who consumed olive oil regularly. Two other European studies also suggested a protective effect of olive oil. One of these studies also showed an increased risk of breast cancer in women who consumed saturated fat. A three-year survey of 61,471 Swedish women reported a 45% reduction in breast cancer risk among women who regularly use canola oil and olive oil. I recommend two tablespoons of olive oil daily.
2. Don’t drink alcohol — or at least drink less.
While a few glasses of red wine per week may have cardio protective actions, we do know that more than seven glasses of alcohol per week modestly increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer, and more recent research suggests that even just a few glasses may do so. Therefore, I encourage women to avoid alcohol except on rare occasions, certainly keep it to no more than two four-ounce glasses of wine per week. I get it, not drinking may be less than fun; breast cancer is even less fun. The studies are clear: the more you drink, the higher your risk of breast cancer, with two drinks per day increasing risk by as much as 70%.
We do our best to eat well, but specific vitamins and minerals, taken in amounts beyond what we get in our food, may have an additional protective role against breast cancer, mostly through supporting our body’s natural ability to detoxify and prevent damage to our genes. Supplements that may support breast cancer prevention include: