Running Away From the Cure

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By Helen Papaconstantinos BA, CNP, RNCP

The month of October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is also the month when the annual ‘Run for the Cure’ takes place to raise funds for breast cancer research. Are we running anywhere close to the finish line?

While we walk, run, and shop for the cause, the cure remains a distant and imaginary dream, according to medical sociologist Gail A. Sulik, Ph.D.  In her new book, Pink Ribbon Blues, the month of ‘Pink October’, has become a distracting sideshow. Despite the $1 billion raised by pink-clad volunteers – and despite the billions that the U.S. administration puts into related research each year – science has failed to make any real progress in the fight against breast cancer.

Adding further worry, the American Cancer Society (ACS) states that, “Since women may not be able to alter their personal risk factors, the best opportunity for reducing morality is through early detection.” In other words, breast cancer is not preventable in spite of clear evidence that its incidence has escalated over recent decades. We keep hearing fundraisers say over and over again, “but these women did everything right – our only hope lies with raising billions for more cancer research” — this in spite of  overwhelming literature on avoidable causes of this cancer.[i] Interestingly, in the ACS text on “Nutrition and Diet,” no mention is made of the present heavy contamination of produce, animal and dairy fats with carcinogenic pesticide residues, or of the need to try safer organic foods.

Are we getting there?

Following the enthusiasm of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are left with the impression that important work is being done. In truth, since the war on cancer was declared 40 years ago, things have become worse. Today in Canada, one woman in nine will get breast cancer. In 1975 it was one in 11.[ii] The risk of dying from the disease, upon diagnosis, decreased just 0.05 percent from 1995 to 2005.[iii] So,  although women with breast cancer today has access to medical and technological advances, she will still have about the same chance of dying from the disease as women did 50 years ago. The situation is worse for African-American women. Although they have a 10 percent lower incidence of breast cancer compared to white women, they are more likely to die of the disease than women of other ethnic races.[iv]

Breast cancer remains one of the leading causes of deaths from cancer for women (excluding melanoma skin cancer). The Canadian Cancer Society’s 2010 figures show that an estimated 23,200 women will be diagnosed with it yearly and 5,300 will die of it. Of the one in nine women who are expected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime, one in 28 will die of it.[v] Across the border, the figures are one in 8 women. Two thousand American men are also diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

“Survivors and supporters walk, run and purchase for a cure as incidence rates rise and the cancer industry thrives”, Sulik writes. Cancer drugs are the fastest growing and best selling class of drugs in the prescription drug market. Currently they total more than $200 billion and this figure continues to grow. Given the profits, can any amount of pink-ribbon volunteering alter the medical establishment’s investment in the current treatments? Who needs a cure when you can make so much money without one?

The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month itself had a rich, strange parent. It was established by the American Cancer Society with funding from the pharmaceutical giant Zeneca.[vi] This company continues to underwrite and direct publicity for breast cancer early detection campaigns whole at the same time manufacturing the pesticides and insecticides that cause breast cancer. According to health advocate Samuel Epstein M.D., the American Cancer Society is the wealthiest “non-profit” institution in the world with approximately $6.40 spent on compensation and overhead for every $1 that is spent on direct services to the patient. It is deeply invested in the drug industry, mammography, and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. [vii]

Under the pink industry umbrella you will find diagnostic technology, pharmaceuticals, and large non-profit organizations. Many of these corporations participate in ‘cause marketing’ – selling a product to increase public visibility, and profit. It seems to be working. Revenues from the medical imaging equipment industry grew from about $3 billion in 1997 to over $9 billion 10 years later. Healthcare analysts predict that the market for medical imaging equipment (not including services) is expected to thrive at a 7.6 percent compound annual growth rate.[viii]

Known risk factors account for only 30 Percent of breast cancer cases: What is missing?

Although scientists have discovered some risk factors for breast cancer (age, reproduction factors, inherited genetic mutations, postmenopausal obesity, hormone-replacement therapy, alcohol consumption, and previous history of cancer of the endometrium, ovary, or colon), these known risk factors account for only 30 percent of breast cancer cases.[ix] What part of the puzzle is missing then?

Over thirty years ago the World Health Organization found that up to 90% of all cancers are caused by pesticides, radiation and other toxic chemicals in the environment.[x] Today the Obama administration’s ‘President’s Cancer Panel’ (a panel which includes the voice of breast cancer survivors), believes the “true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated.”[xi] Dr. Samuel Epstein, (whose research was key to banning DDT), pointed out at the Second World Conference on Breast Cancer in Ottawa, 1999, that all of us now carry 500 different compounds in our cells, none of which existed before 1920, and that “there is no safe dose for any of them”.[xii] An increasing number of studies reveal that certain synthetic chemicals used in household products, cause health problems by interfering with normal hormonal pathways. These ‘endocrine disruptors’ have been linked in animal studies to a variety of problems which include reproductive failure, cancer and developmental abnormalities.[xiii]

Another problem: the lifetime risk of breast cancer of people with the ‘breast cancer gene (BRCA1 or 2) is presently 82 percent. Before 1940, the risk of getting cancer for carriers of these genes was 24 percent. What has changed?  “Our diet, lifestyle and environment – both physically and emotionally”, says Mark Hyman, MD. Conventional medicine has lost its battle with cancer, he says, but this doesn’t mean that the war is over.

“Instead of asking what disease you have and what drug should be used to treat it, we must ask WHY the disease has occurred and what are the underlying causes that led to illness…”[xiv] Disease is a systemic problem and we have to treat the system, not the symptom; the cause, not the disease. According to Hyman, this completely redefines the whole notion of disease – news that is heart-warming holistic practitioners who have accepted this for decades.

How do we do this? Hyman says that we can strengthen the immune system through dietary and lifestyle changes, nutrient and phytonutrient therapies. We can facilitate the body’s own detoxification system to promote the elimination of carcinogenic compounds. We can improve hormone metabolism and reduce carcinogenic effects of too much insulin from our high sugar and refined carbohydrate diet. We can help the detoxification of toxic estrogens though changes in diet, lifestyle, and elimination of hormone-disrupting xenobiotics or petrochemicals.[xv]

Respected Canadian breast health specialist, and Naturopathic Doctor, Sat Dharam Kaur, has been teaching ‘The Healthy Breast Program’, since 1996, and has embraced these truths all along. As she read more and more articles on breast cancer, Kaur was astounded by the connection between the deteriorating environment and cancer development. Lifestyle, thoughts, emotions and stress also play an important role – even though these factors are difficult to measure or predict. Kaur sees at least 8 categorical risk factors to breast disease and stresses that environment, plays a very important role. According to Kaur, the categorical factors include: 1) Hereditary[xvi],2) Reproductive[xvii]; 3) Lifestyle and healthcare, 4) Hormonal – Estrogenic factors[xviii], 5) Environmental; 6) Dietary; 7) Psychological, and 8) Spiritual factors.[xix] This is a very different view which asks ‘could changing thoughts, diet and reactions to stress, aid in detoxification of the garden in which cancer grows?’

What we Can do about breast cancer

The following list of dietary guidelines for breast health and cancer was adapted from Dharam Kaur’s  ‘The Healthy Breast Program’:

1)      Keep the body more alkaline- eat more fruits and vegetables, less protein and grains. Check pH of urine and keep it around 6.8-7.2. Cancer cells cannot survive at a pH of 8. Potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium bicarbonate and cessium create alkalinity.

2)      Increase oxygenation in the tissues, Cancer cells die in an oxygen-rich environment. Regular, deep breathing, the yogic ‘breath of fire’, 35 minutes of aerobic exercise daily, rebounding, flaxseed oil, and Co-enzyme Q10 increase oxygenation.

3)      Test for and remove toxic metals from the body that may be interfering with hormones and enzymes.  These include mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and aluminum. Consider replacing any mercury fillings with porcelain.

4)      Test for and remove pathological fungal growth, parasites, bacteria, viruses, yeast, or other chronic infection, particularly in the teeth. Consider using darkfield microscopy to assess whether fungus is present in a pathological phase.

5)      Avoid sugar and consume foods with a low-glycemic load value, to lower levels of insulin and IGF-1 hormones. These two hormones strongly stimulate tumour growth. Use chromium or r-Lipoic acid to lower insulin levels in the blood/drive it back into the tissues, where it belongs.

6)      Improve circulation and clean up the blood, decreasing viscosity and sticking of platelets. Burdock root, red clover, Echinacea, and digestive enzymes help to clean the blood. Flaxseed oil, vitamin B3, salvia mirtiorrhizae, frankincense and ligustrum help to move the blood. Regular exercise, rebounding, and alternating hot and cold showers will also improve blood circulation by causing muscles to contract and throw off toxins.[xx]

7)       Maintain a healthy body weight (Body Mass Index of less than 25) throughout your life[xxi], exercise regularly for the rest of your life, and minimize exposure to pharmacologic estrogens and xeno-estrogens.

8)      Vitamin D3 (Calcitriol) is protective. It increases the self-destruction of mutated cells, reduces cancer spread, and also reduces the growth of new blood vessels growing from pre-existing one. A promising Creighton University study shows that 1400-1500 mgs calcium citrate (the more absorbable form),  taken together with 1100 international units of vitamin D3, daily, reduced the risk of breast cancer and 25 other cancers by 60 to 70 percent.[xxii]

Try to eat from this list daily:

  • Eat organic (pesticide and hormone-free), whenever possible. Eat primarily vegetarian foods.
  • Aim for 50-80% raw food, to help cleanse and nourish your cells
    • Eat brassicas daily (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnip, sorrel, watercress, radishes, collard greens).Make coleslaw at least three times a week. Otherwise, aim for at least half a cup a day of any brassica. (CAUTION – if you have thyroid issues, speak with your healthcare professional first. Raw brassicas may interfere with thyroid function and cause a rise in thyroid-stimulating-hormone unless you use seaweed or iodine as well.
    • Iodine and sea vegetables such as kelp will protect your breasts and is actually used as a cancer treatment. They also help reduce lymphatic congestion and improve digestion.
    • Use sprouts in your salad and in sandwiches. You can even put them in your soup. Grow your own broccoli sprouts.   They contain sulphoraphane (a powerful anti-breast cancer extract that protects you from environmental toxins and detoxifies your liver. 5 grams of broccoli sprouts is equal to 50 grams of broccoli.
    • Sprouts and cereal grasses are high in vitamins, minerals and enzymes.  They make the body more alkaline (cancer loves acidic conditions). The sprouts of mung beans, clover, yellow pea, green lentil, chick pea, fenugreek, contain more nutrients than the grown beans.
    • Broccoli sprouts contain Indole-3-carbonol. Aim for 300 grams – the amount found in 1/3rd of a raw cabbage. It will double your good, protective estrogen (C2 hydroxyesterone),  and decrease your ‘bad’ estrogen (C16 hydroxyesterone).The ‘thioles’ in brassica vegetables help  the liver to detoxify. The isothiocyanates help prevent DNA damage.
    • Garlic, onions, leeks are very important. Garlic helps prevent the start, promotion and recurrence of many cancers, including breast cancer.  Garlic, leeks, and onions are high in trace minerals germanium and selenium (cancer fighters).  They protect your body from bacteria, yeast and fungi. They are better raw – try to eat 3 cloves of garlic daily.
    • Sea vegetables (seaweed) contain iodine, which helps with breast cancer.
    • Dandelion leaves are very good for cleaning the liver. Keeping y our liver clean will help keep your breast cells clean.
    • Fresh vegetable juices are good for cleansing your cells. Do not drink heat-treated juices. During processing they are altered and made high in glucose, even though the company may claim that there is no added sugar.
    • Carrot, beet, and cabbage juice is very good for breast cancer. You can add any combination of kale, parsley, watercress, asparagus, tomato, bok choy, apple, ginger, garlic sprouts, or seaweed.  Fresh vegetable juices improve detoxification of the intestines and the liver.
    • Lycopene protects you from cancers of the cervix, breast, mouth, esophagus, etc. You get lycopene mainly from cooked tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and guava. Make sure you check your doctor and pharmacist to see if you can have grapefruit, as it interferes with the detoxification cycle of some medications. Adding olive oil to your tomato sauce helps you to absorb lycopene.
    • You will benefit from 2 glasses of HOMEMADE tomato juice daily. CAUTION – some people with arthritis or joint pain will be sensitive to tomatoes, potatoes or eggplant.  Listen to your body.
    • Citrus juice and peel (these contain flavonoids and limone – known breast cancer cell killers).  The most effective type of flavonoids are found in tangerines. Oranges and lemons are next.  Limonene can also be found in dill weed, caraway seeds and mint. Cherries contain a chemical similar to limonene and are also protective against breast tumours.
    • For women with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer, phytoestrogens help (mung bean sprouts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, soy, red clover sprouts) because they compete with the receptor for estrogen, thereby lowering estrogen levels.
    • Fibre (moves out stale estrogen from your intestines, helps to remove toxins, regulates your blood sugar, and keeps you feeling full and satisfied so that you don’t reach for sweets after meals).    Consume 30-35 grams of fibre a day. This is equivalent to one serving of high-fibre cereal, one cup of cooked beans, 2 pieces of whole grain bread, one serving of whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, or millet), and SIX servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
    • Drastically reduce flour products such as bread, pasta, baked goods, and focus on whole grains instead. You can still make pasta sauce – try serving it over brown rice from now on, or quinoa.
    • Protein – make sure, if eating meat, that you are eating grass-fed beef and free-range, organic chicken). Fish should be free of mercury and other contaminants.
    • Sulfur-bearing protein (put 4 TBS organic cottage cheese with 2 TBS flax seed oil in the blender for 4 minutes). Eat for breakfast or as a dip with vegetables. Stir in leeks or garlic, if wished.
    • For cancerous conditions, aim for low sodium (salt), and high potassium (eat baked sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes).
    • Shitake and maitake mushrooms are potent cancer cell killers.
    • Turmeric, rosemary, sage, thyme, ginger are all great. You can even make fresh ginger tea.
    • Rotate your foods and aim for variety – try to eat from above and below the ground, and to eat as many different brightly coloured foods as possible.
    • Eat foods with a low glycemic load rating – this means, please avoid those foods that will raise your blood sugar sharply. Avoid anything white (i.e. sugar, flour, rice) or processed.

In closing, can breast cancer be beaten? Yes, but the problem asks that we shift focus from Pink Culture and pharmaceutical profit, to finding the underlying cause of disease. A ‘one-size fits all’ approach must be replaced with orthomolecular (correct-fit) approach which looks at each person’s unique biochemistry. It also means that instead of looking at the diseased breast, we must look at the entire terrain of the body, internal and external. All of this is manageable but requires that we collaborate to think differently about cancer and to understand and treat it as a systemic problem. If we do all this, we will all be running towards the cure.


[i] See: American Cancer Society, ‘Cancer Facts and Figures -1998, Atlanta, pp.1-32. Other than information on incidence, mortality, signs and symptoms, and treatment, there is little or no mention of prevention.

[ii]The 1 in 8 women estimate is based on statistics for the years 2002 through 2007. See: American Cancer Society, ‘Probability of Breast Cancer in American Women’, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Detection/probability-breast-cancer,

[iii] Russell Rich, Katherine, ‘Sink Pink – A new book takes down Breast Cancer Awareness Month’, Slate Magazine, http://www.slate.com/toolbar.aspx?action=print&id=2272767,  29 October, 2010.

[iv] W.E. Barlow, E. White, & Ballard-Barbash, “Prospective Breast Cancer Risk Prediction Model for Women Undergoing Screening Mammography,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 98 (2006): 1204-14, cited in Sulik, Gayle, Pink Ribbon Blues: How breast cancer culture undermines women’s health. Oxford University Press, New York, 2011, p. 41.

[v] See: Canadian Cancer Society, ‘Breast Cancer Statistics’, http://www.cancer.ca/canada-wide/about%20cancer/cancer%20statistics/stats%20at%20a%20glance/breast%20cancer.aspx Updated 19 May, 2010.

[vi] Zeneca Group plc of Imperial Chemical Industries later merged with pharmaceutical giant Astra AB to become one of the most prosperous members of breast cancer Industry via development and sales of oncology drugs. See: Sulik, G, ‘Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health. Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 19.

[vii] Epstein, Samuel, MD, ‘The American Cancer Society: The World’s Wealthiest ‘Non-Profit’ Institution’, http://www.preventcancer.com/losing/acs/wealthiest_links.htm.  Also Published in: International Journal of Health Services Vol. 29, No. 3, 1999.

[viii] Sulik, Gayle, Blog: ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’, 24 July, 2010.

[ix] Sulik, Op. Cit. Pink Ribbon Blues, p. 59.

[x] Caroline Dean N.D., M.D., forward to book, ‘The complete natural medicine guide to Breast Cancer. Robert Rose Publ., Toronto, 2002. p4.

[xi] See: Cone, Marla, Ed. Environmental Health News, President’s Cancer Panel: Environmentally caused cancers are “grossly under-estimated’ and needlessly devastate American lives’,   http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/presidents-cancer-panel. 6 May, 2010.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] A 2007 UC-Davis study studied the synthetic antibacterial chemical triclocarban (TCC), which for the past 45 year has been added to dish and bath soaps, detergents, cleansing wipes and lotions. See: University of California – Davis (2007, December 8). Antibacterial Chemical Disrupts Hormone Activities, Study Finds, ScienceDaily, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/07150713.htm , Dec. 8, 2007. P. 1.

[xiv] Hyman, Mark, MD, “Cancer Research: New Science on How to Prevent and Treat Cancer from TEDMED 2010, Huffington Post, 12 November, 2000. Available at: http://ww.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/cancer-new-science-on-how_b_779936.htm

[xv] Ibid, p. 12.

[xvi] Hereditary risk factors include mother or sister with breast cancer, female relatives with ovarian or endometrial cancer, brother or father with prostate cancer, being light-skinned, being born more than 8.8 pounds or longer than 51.5 cm at birth (this makes you 3.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer before menopause than girls weighing less than 6.7 pounds or less than 50 cm. See McCormack, VA. Et al. Fetal Growth and subsequent risk pf breast cancer: results from long term follow up of Swedish cohort. British Medical Journal, 2003; Feb 1: 326-248.

[xvii] Having a child is not a guarantee against breast cancer, but it helps. Breast cells complete their maturation process only with a full-term pregnancy. After that, they become less affected to menstrual cycle hormones. Partially matured breast cancer cells have unstable DNA that is more susceptible to the process of cancer.  See Sat Dharam Kaur, ND, ‘The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Breast Cancer. Robert Rose Publ. Toronto, 2003, p. 19.

[xviii] Hormonal-Estrogenic factors include early-onset of menstruation and late menstruation, shorter menstrual cycles, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, fertility drugs, DES, Low progesterone, high prolactin, increased growth hormone, increased testosterone, imbalanced thyroid, high insulin levels, high insulin-like hormones.

[xix] Sat Dharam Kaur, ND, ‘The Healthy Breast Program’. Canadian Edition, 2010, p. 46.

[xx] (these include early-onset of menstruation and late menstruation, shorter menstrual cycles, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, fertility drugs, DES, Low progesterone, high prolactin, increased growth hormone, increased testosterone, imbalanced thyroid, high insulin levels, high insulin-like hormones.

[xxi] A study in the August 2003 publication of JAMA, reveals that women who exercise regularly achieve a higher survival rate from breast cancer. The risk of cancer death was 50 percent lower for women with hormone responsive tumours. The optimal exertion seems to be 9-14.9 Metabolic Equivalent Task hours. The reasoning was that exercise resulted in lower levels of circulating estrogen hormones. See: http://www.fitcommerce.com/Blueprint/page.aspx?pageId=276&announcementId=900&tabId=87&tabIndex=0&portalId=2&cid=112

[xxii] Researcher and professor of medicine Joan Lappe is working on phase two of her research into the benefits of Vitamin D in reducing cancer risk. The first phase indicated that rural postmenopausal women who took optimum amounts of calcium and vitamin D3 supplements could reduce their risk of breast cancer and 25 other cancers by 60 percent to 77 percent. See: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 85, No. 6, 1586-1591, June 2007. Available at: http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/85/6/1586