Can breast cancer be prevented?
An excerpt from chapter One of Breast Cancer? Breast Health!
by Susun Weed
Available at www.wisewomanbookshop.com
Sometimes it seems that every magazine, newspaper, radio show, and
piece of mail has a headline declaring that every woman’s risk
of developing breast cancer is increasing. There is a numbing feeling
of inevitability in these pronouncements. More and more women think
about breast cancer as a when rather than an if.
It’s true that there’s more breast cancer now than ever
before, that between 1979 and 1986 the incidence of invasive breast
cancer in the United States increased 29 percent among white women
and 41 percent among black women, and incidence of all breast cancers
doubled. It’s true that the percentage of women dying from breast
cancer has remained virtually unchanged over the past 50 years, and
that every 12 minutes throughout the last half of the twentieth century
another woman died of breast cancer.
And it’s true that breast cancer is the disease that women fear
more than any other, that breast cancer is the biggest killer of all
women aged 35 to 54, and that of the 2.5 million women currently diagnosed
with breast cancer, half will be dead within ten years.
These facts frighten me, and they also make me angry. My studies spanning
25 years and many disciplines have convinced me that the majority
of breast cancers are causally related to the high levels of radiation
and chemicals released into our air, water, soil, and food over the
past 50 years. United States government researchers estimate that
80 percent of all cancers are environmentally linked.
What can be done? The answer isn’t as simple as a yearly mammogram.
That may help detect breast cancer, but it won’t prevent it.
To prevent breast cancer we need to take individual and collective
Effective action requires understanding the causes of breast cancer
and what decreases breast cancer risk. But there are few conclusive
answers to these queries, partly because most research focuses on
eliminating breast cancer after—not before—it occurs.
Science has validated so few risk factors for breast cancer that 70
percent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer have “no identifiable
Unfortunately, our sex, age, reproductive history, family history,
exposure to radiation (such as fallout from above-ground atomic bomb
tests), race, culture, and height are beyond our control. When we’re
told these are the only risk factors, we can be left with feelings
of hopelessness and panic.
But when we include risk factors that are considered “not well
substantiated”—but which are clearly contributing to breast
cancer incidence—including ingestion of and exposure to prescription
hormones, hormone-mimicking organochlorines, prescription drugs, petrochemicals,
and electromagnetic fields, as well as unwise lifestyle choices such
as smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol immoderately, wearing a bra,
or not exercising, then we can find many ways to lower breast cancer
risk. No need to panic.
We can help prevent breast cancer on an individual basis by buying
organically grown food, filtering our water, building powerful immunity,
living wisely and vigorously, being in touch with our breasts, using
natural remedies for menopausal problems, and by paying attention
to our Wise Healer Within.
But there’s a limit to the control that any one woman has over
her exposure to petrochemicals, radiation, and other environmental
cancer-inciters. Limiting the production and discharge of substances
that initiate and promote cancer is collective work. When our individual
acts are combined with the acts of others, we can achieve the envisioned
social change. For example, as I saw more and more evidence that chlorine
residues from papermaking contribute to breast cancer, I began to
ask for chlorine-free paper from my book printer. They went from amazement
and puzzlement at my request to contracting with a new paper supplier
who can provide them with elemental chlorine-free paper. (I’m
not the only one asking, you see.)
Whether you think your risk of breast cancer is high, low, or average,
there are things you can do, individually and with others, to help
yourself stay free of breast cancer and to help stop the epidemic
of breast cancer, too. (What is your risk of breast cancer? See “Risk
Assessment,” page 317, to educate your guess.)
Since 1950 the incidence of breast cancer in the U.S. has increased
by 53 percent, according to Nancy Brinker, chair of President Clinton’s
Special Commission on Breast Cancer.
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