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What Mamas Need to Know About Protecting Their Breasts After Angelina Jolie’s Breast Cancer Scare

What to learn from Angelina Jolia’s preventative mastectomy and how mama’s everywhere can empower themselves towards better breast health & worry less about breast cancer

Upon hearing that Angelina Jolie decided to have both of her breasts removed to help decrease her chances of developing breast cancer, I couldn’t help myself from researching the tabloids as if they were major medical journals. What woman could? There is no way that you are hearing it here first, so I won’t go into more than the basic details. Angelina Jolie revealed in a NY Times Op-ed on May 14, that she had chosen to have a preventative double masectomy because she is a carrier of the BRCA1 gene and thus was at an increased risk for developing both breast and ovarian cancers.

I think it is important that the article states this was her “medical choice” and that she says near the very beginning that “only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation.” She also reminds women that: “Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries.”  Near the end of the article, she also mentions that there are many holistic doctors working on alternatives to surgery and promises to reveal her own regime in the future.

There are a few major take-aways from this article for women and I want to make sure that in the furor that arises, eco-curious mamas everywhere hold on to them.

  1. It is important for science and knowledge to stay accessible. What do I mean, you may ask? Well, while all this hubbub is going on with Angelina Jolie there is an important Supreme Court case also being heard. Angelina Jolie knew she was at such a high risk of breast cancer because her mother’s early death from breast cancer caused her to have genetic testing done. The access to that genetic testing (and research related to cures) is currently in danger because there is one company, Myriad, that owns the patent on that gene and therefore has a monopoly on all the research related to those genes. The whole thing reads like a weird, and dark, Sci-Fi book. The Atlantic has a good article on the issue that is easy to follow.
  2. You are more likely to get breast cancer because of an array of “environmental” and other life factors–a LOT more likely–than due to genetics. That takes awhile to really sink in: just because every woman in your life is breast cancer-free doesn’t mean that you will be. Dr. Aviva Romm, medical doctor, midwife, author, and mom, puts it this way: “But the reality is that most women (more than 9 out of 10) who develop breast cancer have no predisposing genetic risk, and 50% have no conventionally recognized risk factors at all, thus making it all the more terrifying a specter.” What does cause breast cancer if not genetics? Dr. Romm says: “While we don’t know exactly what causes breast cancer in any given woman, we do know that breast cancer is likely a complex interplay of genes, genetic damage, and immune health, all of which are influenced by lifestyle, diet, and our environment.”
  3. You are not entirely powerless, you can DO THINGS that give yourself your best chance at breast health through lifestyle choices. Angelina Jolie is not the first person I have known to choose a preventative double mastectomy after discovering they had a strong genetic predisposition towards it. That was her taking back some of the power in a situation where many women feel powerless. If you don’t have the same strong genetic predisposition towards breast cancer (and even if you do) there are other ways to take back some sense of power as well. Some of my friends who have developed breast cancer had progressive doctors that were well aware of the environmental risks that women face simply by being a woman in today’s increasingly toxic world. Those toxins love to hang-out in our breast tissue and many of them stay in their for a lifetime or until we get pregnant and pass part of our toxic burden onto our children. I am thankful for these doctors, friends, and researchers who have shared their discoveries with us. I believe it helps women to acknowledge that living in a toxic world has put women at particular risk through no fault of our own and that we can improve our chances for health and survival through knowledge and lifestyle action.

What are those things you can do to help decrease your chances of getting breast cancer?

Your Best Chance Guide for Breast Health by The Green Mama

(In the movie version Angelina Jolie will play The Green Mama)

  1. Eat whole, organic foods. Use high quality oils, like olive oil and real butter. And eat lots of orange and dark green leafy vegetables, especially those in the Brassicacae family, including cabbage, kale, and collard greens because these are all thought to protect again cancers. Avoid processed foods and especially food additives like dyes, MSG, and preservatives. These days, diet advice abounds. My tips are to keep it simple, pure, local, and traditional.
  2. Avoid environmental toxins, especially estrogen mimickers.  Dr. Romm says it well: “The data is unequivocal and just keeps pouring in – many of the 100,000+ environmental chemicals that have been introduced into our ecosystems and thus our body-systems cause cancer, and our breast tissue is especially at risk because many toxins preferentially affect them.” What is healthier for your child, is healthier for your breasts too. For instance: avoid plastic, get skincare products that are so pure you can eat them, be vigilant about your indoor air quality, eat organic–especially when eating animal products. The Green Mama site abounds with suggestions all geared towards some version of this! So, keep reading. (If you have no idea what “estrogen” mimickers or environmental toxins means think plastics, artificial fragrances, pesticides, any paint or finish or furniture with a strong smell, and the chemicals found used to make things flame-retardant as just a beginning.)
  3. Supplement smart. I don’t generally like the hassle of taking vitamins, but I am a big fan of my daily dose of fermented cod liver oil and I usually manage to choke down a multivitamin with a little extra Vitamin D. Here are some other supplements recommended for breast health:

  4. Avoid sugar, especially fructose, processed sugars, and sugar substitutes. Dr. Romm discusses this further in her article on naturally preventing breast cancer as does Dr. Mercola,  but it was one of the first things that a young girl friend had told me her doctor talked to her about. Learn more about sugar in an earlier post on my site as well.
  5. Stop smoking, drinking in excess, and charring your meats because all have been linked to increases in breast cancer. I am going to assume we don’t have to give up entirely on margaritas and BBQ, but practice them in moderation.
  6. Avoid hormone therapy. According to the Mayo Clinic: “Combination hormone therapy for more than 3 to 5 years increases the risk of breast cancer.”  Some doctors also link longterm hormonal birth control use in this category.
  7. Know your alternatives for breast cancer screening. The Mayo Clinic cautions against exposure to high levels of radiation from medical imagining. This means the radiation from mammograms too. Early screening can find early cancers in some and for others just increases their chances of developing breast cancer due to the high levels of radiation used. Many doctors now suggest that  for most women the risks of screening with mammograms before the age of 50 outweigh the benefits. In the holistic medicine world, the Computerized Regulation Thermography (CRT) exam has become a healthier, no-radiation, option for early detection of breast changes.
  8. Reduce your stress. Increase your sleep. I hate when people warn: “don’t be stressed!” It makes me feel more stressed. So, if you are like me, then consider focusing on getting more sleep (I know, impossible when you have young kids) and exercising (which is all you do when you are running after really young children) and  giving yourself a break, practicing laughter, meditating, reading a good book, taking a walk in the woods, or in the playground at night after the kids have emptied out, spending time with friends, or a glass of red wine (just not too much warns breast health researchers)… this can be easier ways for the Type A woman to think about destressing. As soon as possible, get back into a regular sleep routine of around 8 hours of sleep a night which will do magic for your stress levels.
  9. Exercise.  Every medical website and person I have spoken to reinforces that regular exercise and healthy weight maintenance are key to promoting overall health and protecting against breast cancer.  It does this by regulating your insulin and blood sugar levels, shedding stress hormones, and just generally helping with stress reduction.
  10. Breastfeed!  Most women who breastfeed know that it reduces their chances of getting breast cancer. The longer your breastfeed, the more you reduce your chances. I once heard that if you have breastfed for more than 7 years in total, your chances of breast cancer are similar to that of a man. Dr Romm states: “Several studies have shown that breastfeeding may reduce breast cancer risk…  one large study, based on data from the Nurses’ Health Study, found up to a 59% reduction in risk in breast cancer in premenopausal women who had breastfed for any length of time, even though all of these women had a first degree relative (mother, sister) with breast cancer.”
  11. Consider the woo-woo. Sometimes alternative health theories just make me paranoid, but they can also put my mind at ease. The science isn’t conclusive on many of these theories, but when it comes to breast health there are two additional actions that might improve your breast health and help you rest easier.
  •     Limit your exposure to electro magnetic radiation, such as from your cellphone, cordless phone, and from sitting your laptop computer in your lap (which I am doing right now). A review of the studies suggests: “The biologic plausibility of an association between EMF and breast cancer, coupled with suggestive data from occupational studies and unexplained high incidence rates of breast cancer, suggests that further investigation of this possible association is warranted.”
  •     Limit your wearing of under-wire or tight bras. Or of any bra. I know this is way easier said than done, but luckily there is a fashion this year for tank-top bras with built in padded shaping, so it might not be impossible. I read a compelling article that suggested that women may be able to reduce their breast cancer rates from 1 in 7 for normal usage to 1 out of 152 simply by wearing a bra for less than 12 hours a day.

Read more about taking control of your breast health with some of my favourite alternative healers, thinkers, writers, and websites.

Article by Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock. For more of the latest and greatest on Angelina Jolie’s breasts or other he
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