Breast Cancer Awareness: The Truth about Mammograms, Family History and Preventative Measures
I posted about breast health on Instagram last week and had an incredibly educational discussion with my friends and readers. We talked about mammograms low efficiency rate and the increased risk of breast cancer with each screening. We talked about alternatives and shared helpful stories.
In 2013, the Swiss Medical Board, a nongovernmental independent health technology assessment initiative, found that the benefits of mammography screenings didn't exactly outweigh the harms:
- Over 21% of women were over-diagnosed; unnecessarily treated for breast cancer with needless surgical interventions, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or some combination of these
- No evidence suggesting an effect of mammography screening on overall mortality
- Large discrepancy between women's perceptions about the benefits of mammography screening and the benefits to be expected in reality
The average 50 year old women believes 16% of women die from breast cancer if they don't get mammograms, when in reality, it is 0.5%.
Mammograms also give false negatives. Around 15% of women with breast cancer were given the all-clear after a mammogram screening.
Additionally, leading cancer expert Dr. Samuel Epstein said:
"The routine practice of [mammography] results in approximately 1 rad (radiation absorbed dose) exposure, approximately 1,000 times greater than the dose from a single chest x-ray. Each rad exposure increases risks of breast cancer by about one percent, with a cumulative 10 percent increased risk for each breast over a decade's screening. Moreover, the premenopausal breast is highly sensitive to radiation. Not surprisingly, premenopausal mammography screening is practiced by no other nation than the U.S."
This technique uses infrared light to detect hot spots in the breasts. This is a highly controversial method because the FDA says there is no evidence to support the claim it can detect cancer. A 2012 study showed it only detected a quarter of the amount of cancer that mammograms detected. Furthermore, in discussions with my readers who were experienced with thermography, it seems as though there were plenty of false positives with this method.
Breast ultrasound, or sonography, is a noninvasive technique that emits sound waves over the breast. As the sound waves echo and bounce, they are converted into images on the a computer screen. This method isn't proven to detect early forms of breast cancer, but can prove helpful to identify troublesome lumps, particularly with premenopausal breasts. By the reaction during our instagram discussion, this is the preferred method of most women, though doctors will rarely use it as a breast cancer screening tool without a lump to examine. This method is also most effective with a highly trained healthcare individual who has plenty of experience examining ultrasound images.
Breast Massage vs. Self Exam
Because of the heightened level of fear around cancer in our society, doctors encourage women to do monthly breast exams to (fearfully) look for lumps or abnormalities. Our breasts are lumpy already, and depending on the time of the month, may be extra or less lumpy than usual.
The best way to know if there is a problem, is for us to be in tune with our bodies and know how our breasts feel throughout the month. Instead of a breast exam, I am doing a breast massage 2-4 times a month in the shower for 10 minutes at a time.
According to Susun Weed, breast massage, particularly with stimulating oils, can help "prevent and reverse cysts, dissolve troublesome lumps and repair abnormal cells. Breast skin is thin and absorbent, and breast tissue contains a great deal of fat, which readily absorbs infused herbal oils. The healing and cancer-preventing actions of herbs easily migrate into olive oil—creating a simple, effective product for maintaining breast health."
Now I'm not saying this can cure or prevent cancer, but it provides a relaxing way to get to know your breasts without frantically searching for lumps. Once we have that familiarity, it allows an opportunity to easily recognize abnormal changes we can bring to our doctors, if necessary.
I will provide helpful resources for breast massage at the end of the article.
Of course, there are other signs you should be aware of besides an abnormal lump. Here are a few to be aware of:
- Breast or chest pain
- Breast tumors can take many different forms... all of growths cause different types of pain or discomfort. It is important to keep track of when, where and how often the pain occurs. Tell your doctor, being as specific as possible.
- Itchy breasts
- This symptom, mostly associated with inflammatory breast cancer, is often not noticed. It is extremely itchy, and it makes you feel like scratching. The median age of diagnosis for inflammatory breast cancer is 57 (54 among African-American women). If the doctor sends you home with an ointment or prescription, don’t hesitate to return if the symptoms don’t go away.
- Upper back, shoulder and neck pain
- The pain is easily confused with sore muscles. However, the pain doesn’t go away with stretching or changing position. Bone pain is a deep ache or throbbing. The first place breast cancer usually spreads is to the spine or ribs, becoming secondary spine cancer.
- Changes in breast shape, size or appearance
- Tissue growth may push out the shape or size of the breast without causing a glaring lump. Be particularly alert if you’ve been told you have dense breast tissue. Mammograms miss up to 50 percent of tumors in women with dense breasts. Study the shape and size of your breasts in a mirror. If there’s a difference in size or shape you haven’t ever noticed, tell your doctor.
- A change in nipple appearance or sensitivity
- One of the most common locations for a breast tumor is just beneath the nipple, which can alter the look and feel of the nipple. You may notice that one of your nipples sticks up less than it used to, or it might have become inverted, flattened or indented. There can also be a decrease in nipple sensitivity. Finally, there could be discharge when you’re not breast feeding, and it could be bloody, milky or watery. The skin of the nipple can become crusty, scaly or inflamed. Many breast cancers start in the milk ducts just under and around the nipple, affecting the nipple’s appearance or causing pain or discharge.
- Swelling or lump in your armpit
- Any pain in the armpit is a sign to check the area carefully with your fingers. A lump under the armpit is hard and doesn’t move when you touch it. It feels like a sore or tender spot under the arm. You may not necessarily feel a lump. In some women, the swelling is more prominent under the arm or under the collarbone. The lymph nodes in your armpit are where breast cancer spreads first, by way of lymphatic fluid that drains from the breast. Colds, flu and infection can also cause swollen lymph nodes, so if you’re sick or have an infection, wait for it to clear up before you worry. If a lump or tender spot in the underarm area persists for a week with no apparent cause, see your doctor.
- Red, swollen breasts
- Breast pain or redness can be signs of inflammatory breast cancer. They may feel swollen and sore, or the skin and underlying tissue may feel hot or look red or even purple. Inflammatory breast cancer is the most likely cause of this symptom. But breast tumors can also push on tissues, causing breasts to feel swollen and sore.
There are a number of helpful articles about how to help prevent cancer, I'll highlight some items from this piece, which you can review for full information.
- Blood sugar management
- Limited alcohol
- Avoid conventional dairy or dairy in whole, as it is full of hormones, it's meant to grow a baby cow after all!
- Avoid conventional coffee and high amounts of caffeine
- Avoid soda and caffeinated green tea
- Avoid non-organic fruit, vegetables and meat
- pesticides mimic estrogen, soy and corn (fed to conventional livestock) disrupt hormones and are inflammatory foods
- Avoid Trans Fats and vegetable oils
- Avoid xenoestrogens, estrogen mimics found in:
- Skin/Beauty Products (My favorite clean versions are listed here)
- Building supplies
- Household cleaning products
- Birth Control Pills
- See full list of xenoetrogens with ingredient names
- Discuss supplement your diet with your doctor with:
- Vitamin D
- Organic decaf Green Tea
- Methylated B vitamins
- Cod Liver Oil
Family History of Breast Cancer: Genetics or Horse Urine?
Doctors ask women about a family history of illness, including breast cancer. But why don't they don't ask for their medication history? My maternal grandmother had breast cancer but was on Premarin, a synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) before developing breast cancer and dying several years later after a long, hard fight.
Premarin is a synthetic estrogen treatment derived from the urine of pregnant horses shown to increase the breast cancer risk up 88% for women on the treatment for 10 years. When I tried to clarify my "family history" of breast cancer to a gynecologist several years ago, before I was even done speaking, she interrupted with "HRT didn't cause her cancer" without a second thought. I kicked her out of my exam room and left without letting her touch me.
My mother and I aren't fearful of a "family history" of breast cancer, we are more cautious of cancer causing ingredients including the synthetic estrogen my grandma was on. We have learned about genetic markers along with synthetic (HRT) and bioidentical hormone replacement therapies (BHRT) and we continue to learn!
Genetic Predisposition to Breast Cancer
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) the "genetic predisposition to breast cancer has advanced significantly. Three classes of predisposition factors, categorized by their associated risks of breast cancer, are currently known. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are high-penetrance breast cancer predisposition genes identified by genome-wide linkage analysis and positional cloning. Mutational screening of genes functionally related to BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 has revealed four genes, CHEK2, ATM, BRIP1, and PALB2; mutations in these genes are rare and confer an intermediate risk of breast cancer. Association studies have further identified eight common variants associated with low-penetrance breast cancer predisposition."
Research shows "people who carry a mutation in either of these genes have a condition called Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) syndrome.2 They have an up to 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer by age 70. In addition, mutation carriers who have already been diagnosed with cancer have a significantly increased risk of developing a second cancer in the future."
If you feel you may be predisposed to breast cancer due to family history (more than one from the same side of the family) having genetic testing done to help understand your risk could be incredibly helpful. Organizations like Myriad are leaders in the BRCA genetic testings.
If you see a product promoting their product featuring a Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, watch out. Chances are, their products contain carcinogenic ingredients! Here are some top ones to beware of from SafeCosmetics.org:
- 1,4 Dioxane
- Found products that create suds, hair relaxers and others as Sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, chemicals that include the clauses xynol, ceteareth and oleth
- Found in artificial nail products as ethyl acrylate, ethyl methacrylate, and methyl methacrylate
- Found in lip balm, nail polish, food packaging, cleaning supplies ingredients containing the word benzophenone (for example benzophenone-2), BP# (for example BP2), oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, sulisobenzone sodium
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
- Found in a variety of personal care products as preservatives as BHA or BHT
- Carbon Black
- A dark black powder used as a pigment in cosmetics such as eyeliner, mascara and lipstick as Carbon black, D & C Black No. 2, acetylene black, channel black, furnace black, lamp black, and thermal black
- Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs)
- Found in Nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap, body wash, color cosmetics as Formaldehyde, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal.
- Found in soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners and dyes, lotions, shaving creams, paraffin and waxes, household cleaning products, pharmaceutical ointments, eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, blush, make-up bases, foundations, fragrances, sunscreens as Triethanolamine, diethanolamine, DEA, TEA, cocamide DEA, cocamide MEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate, DEA oleth-3 phosphate, lauramide DEA, linoleamide MEA, myristamide DEA, oleamide DEA, stearamide MEA, TEA-lauryl sulfate
- Coal tar
- Found in Shampoos and scalp treatments, soaps, hair dyes, and lotions as Coal tar solution, tar, coal, carbo-cort, coal tar solution, coal tar solution USP, crude coal tar, estar, impervotar, KC 261, lavatar, picis carbonis, naphtha, high solvent naphtha, naphtha distillate, benzin B70, petroleum benzin
- Found in most personal care products including sunscreen, shampoo, soap, body wash, deodorant, body lotion, makeup, facial cream, skin toner, serums, exfoliating scrubs and perfume as Fragrance, perfume, parfum, essential oil blend, aroma
Want to honor the loved ones you know who have/had cancer? Don't buy products that contain carcinogenic ingredients! Feed your family real food. Don't use synthetic hormones. Avoid hormone mimicking and altering ingredients. Prevent cancer from the inside out - stop feeding it!
Breast Massage Ingredients
To create an awareness about your breast health, breast massage is encouraged 2-4 times a month, particularly in the shower!
Use olive oil for your breast massage or use herb-infused oils with active plant components that can help "reverse abnormal cellular changes such as hyperplasia, atypia, precancers and in situ (early stage) cancers."
Ensure you are NOT using an antiperspirant or any deodorant with aluminum. The armpit area is near the lymph nodes and incredibly susceptible to those toxins.
Herbal Oils for Breast Massage
A few of Susun Weed's recommended Herbal oils for breast massage are listed below with her thoughts on each:
- Organic Olive Pomace Oil
The oil pressed from the fruits (olives) and seeds (pits) of these magnificent, long-lived trees is neither an infused oil nor an essential oil. It is my favorite oil for eating, cooking, and using as a base for infusing herbs. Virgin or extra virgin oils are great for eating, but have a rich smell which is overpowering in an infused oil or ointment. As a base for infused oils, I use the less expensive (and less aromatic) pomace oil—made by pressing the ground pits after the olives have been squeezed dry. No matter what type you use, fancy or plain, olive oil will no doubt uphold its ancient and venerable reputation for healing and nourishing skin and scalp.
The vermillion red oil of the flowers or flowering tops of St. Joan’s (St. John’s) wort is mild enough to be used regularly to promote breast health, yet powerful enough to seem positively miraculous as it repairs damage to the skin and nerves of the breasts. In addition to using it for breast massage, I favor it for assistance in healing the armpit and breast area after surgery, reducing skin damage from radiation, and relieving nerve and muscle pain. Its antiviral powers pass through the skin and into nerve endings, preventing and checking a wide variety of skin problems, including virulent hospital-bred infections such as shingles.
I find St. Joan’s wort oil an exceptionally useful ally for women dealing with nerve damage caused by removal of axillary lymph nodes. Frequent applications restore sensation, promote good lymphatic circulation, help prevent lymphedema, and offer prompt and long-lasting relief from pain. St. Joan's wort oil also has an incredible effect on skin as radiation burn prevention and sunscreen.
With its brilliant color and its solid reputation as a breast cancer preventive, plantain oil/ointment is another favorite for breast self massage. Frequent applications of the jewel-green oil—as many as ten times a day—have been used successfully by women to reverse in situ cancer cells in the breasts. Plantain ointment is the first first aid I reach for when I itch, when I get a sting, when I need to heal torn muscles, when I want to draw out thorns, splinters, or infection, and when I need to relieve pain and swelling.
Calendula blossom oil is a reknowned old wives’ remedy against breast cancer, yet it’s gentle enough for regular use. Older books call it pot marigold, causing some people to confuse it with the unrelated modern garden marigold. In addition to keeping breast tissues healthy, calendula excels at preventing—and, with patience, removing—adhesions and scar tissue, even keloid scars.
Comfrey root oil/ointment is a specific remedy for those with sore breasts. It is especially wonderful for breast self massage. Infused oil of comfrey root (best) or leaves is one of the most amazing healing agents I’ve ever used. Comfrey oil/ointment both strengthens tissues and helps them become more resilient and flexible.
That strange-looking weed with the drooping black berries that towers over gardens and roadsides throughout much of eastern North America is pokeweed—an old favorite of wise women dealing with breast lumps and breast cancer. If I felt a suspicious lump, I’d reach for poke root oil. It reduces congestion, relieves swelling, and literally dissolves growths in the breasts.
Jethro Kloss, author of the classic herbal Back to Eden, used freshly grated raw poke root poultices to burn away breast cancer. Caution: Fresh poke placed directly on the skin is strong enough to damage healthy tissues as well as cancerous ones.
The infused oil is also effective and far safer. A generous amount is gently applied to the lump, covered with a flannel cloth and then with a hot water bottle (no heating pads), and left on for as long as you’re comfortable. This is repeated at least twice a day. Poke root oil is too powerful for regular preventive care. Caution: Poke oil can cause a rash on sensitive skin. Ingestion of poke oil can cause severe intestinal distress.
- Essentail oils of citrus, rosemary, lavender, marjoram, or clary sage (last two are contraindicated in pregnancy) — ten drops diluted in one ounce/30 ml of olive oil—have been used to increase circulation to the breasts, warm them, activate the immune system, and offer the healing benefits of their aromas as well.
Use any combination of the above items in equal parts for a beautiful blend. Leave the poke out and use it once a week or use 5 parts of each other to 1 part poke as it is a strong lymphatic and should not be used for preventative care. Special thank you to Isa at Isa Restoratives for helping me put together this list and combination tips!
To perform breast massage, you can read Susun Weed's technique here or you can watch a short video, for us visual learners down below.