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Natural Breast Cancer Defense

Alternative Medicine and Breast Cancer Prevention

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Updated June 01, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The most common form of cancer among women in the United States (other than skin cancer), breast cancer typically begins as a malignant tumor in the breast ducts or in the glands responsible for producing milk. In some cases, breast cancer spreads to distant areas of the body.

Breast cancer affects one in eight women during the course of their lives. The disease may also occur in men, but incidences of male breast cancer are fairly rare.

Causes of Breast Cancer

Although no one knows what causes breast cancer, these factors may increase your risk for the disease:

  • personal or family history of breast cancer
  • reproductive and menstrual history (such as beginning periods before age 12 or going through menopause after age 55)
  • being overweight or obese
  • lack of physical activity
  • consumption of alcohol
  • Breast cancer risk increases as you age, and most cases occur in women over 60. The disease is more common among white women than Latina, Asian, or African-American women.

    Breast Cancer Symptoms

    Performing self-exams of your breasts each month can help you detect any changes that may signal breast cancer. These changes may include:

  • a lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
  • nipple tenderness
  • a change in size or shape of the breast or nipple
  • scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, areola, or nipple
  • Nipple discharge may also be a sign of breast cancer.

    In addition to performing monthly self-exams, you should visit your doctor regularly for clinical breast exams. Women who are over age 40 (or who have certain risk factors for breast cancer) should also receive mammograms every one or two years.

    Learn how to do a breast self-exam.

    Breast Cancer Treatment

    Treatment options for breast cancer are based on a number of factors, including type of breast cancer, breast cancer stage, the cancer cells' sensitivity to hormones, and the patient's overall health. Treatments may include breast cancer surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted drugs, or a combination or therapies.

    Alternative Medicine for Breast Cancer

    A number of natural therapies may help relieve side effects of conventional cancer treatments, ease stress, and enhance quality of life for people coping with breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about using the following:

  • acupuncture
  • guided imagery
  • hypnosis
  • massage
  • meditation
  • tai chi
  • yoga
  • Breast Cancer Prevention

    Although there's no surefire way to prevent breast cancer, the following may reduce your risk:

  • exercising for at least a half-hour on most days of the week
  • limiting your use of postmenopausal hormone therapy
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • limiting your consumption of alcohol
  • Preliminary research suggests that these natural substances may also aid in the prevention of breast cancer:

    1) Curcumin

    An animal-based study published in 2009 shows that curcumin (a compound found in the curry spice turmeric and available in supplement form) may help reduce breast cancer risk for women undergoing hormone replacement therapy during menopause. The study's authors suggest that women receiving a combined estrogen and progestin hormone replacement therapy could potentially take curcumin to protect against the development of progestin-accelerated tumors. However, it's important to talk to your doctor about using any natural remedies in combination with hormone replacement therapy.

    2) Resveratrol

    In a test-tube study published in 2008, researchers found that resveratrol (an antioxidant found in the skin of grapes) helped suppress breast-cancer progression in its earliest stages. Available in supplement form, resveratrol appeared to stop estrogen from reacting with DNA molecules and forming compounds that mark the start of cancer cell formation.

    3) Green Tea

    While clinical trials on green tea's cancer-fighting effects have yielded mixed results, lab tests suggest that a combination of green tea and ganoderma (a medicinal mushroom, also known as reishi) may help slow the growth of breast cancer cells.

    Sources:

    Carroll CE, Benakanakere I, Besch-Williford C, Ellersieck MR, Hyder SM. "Curcumin delays development of medroxyprogesterone acetate-accelerated 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene-induced mammary tumors." Menopause. 2009 Jul 22.

    Lu F, Zahid M, Wang C, Saeed M, Cavalieri EL, Rogan EG. "Resveratrol prevents estrogen-DNA adduct formation and neoplastic transformation in MCF-10F cells." Cancer Prevention Research 2008 1(2):135-45.

    Thyagarajan A, Zhu J, Sliva D. "Combined effect of green tea and Ganoderma lucidum on invasive behavior of breast cancer cells." International Journal of Oncology 2007 30(4):963-9.

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