How to Reduce Breast Density to Decrease Breast Cancer Risk

mammogram

If you are at a higher risk of breast cancer because of dense breasts, family history or use of the birth control pill or hormone replacement therapy, avoid red meat, alcohol and sugar, and minimize saturated fats found in butter and cheese. Adopt a primarily vegan diet. Increase fiber intake, consuming 45 grams daily. Exercise 40-60 minutes daily. Drink rosemary tea daily and use turmeric, 2 Tbsp freshly ground flaxseeds and 2 Tbsp flaxseed oil in your food regularly. Use 3000 IU vitamin D3, 100 mg co-enzyme Q10, 300 mg Indole-3-carbinol, 100 mg B complex, 1500 mg curcumin, 1000 mg N-acetyl cysteine and 300 mg alpha lipoic acid daily.

How to Reduce Breast Density to Decrease Breast Cancer Risk

Author: Sat Dharam Kaur ND

Increased breast density, as detected through mammography, is a strong known risk factor for breast cancer.[i] Breast tissue is composed of fat, glandular and connective tissue. Fat is radiolucent and appears dark on a mammogram, while glandular and connective tissues are radiodense and appear light. When more glandular and connective tissue is present, breast density is greater.[ii]

The risk of breast cancer is four to five times greater in women who have increased density in more than 75% of their breast tissue, than in women with little or no density in the breast. One third of all breast cancers are found in women who have increased breast density in over 50% of their breast tissue.[iii]

Mammographic breast density can diminish over time. Women whose breast density does not diminish over time are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.[iv]

Women who experience ≥10% absolute decrease in percent density had a 55% decreased risk of contralateral breast cancer, relative to women who had little or no change in density from baseline to first follow-up mammogram.[v]

Mammographic screening of US women between 2007-2010 determined that 43.3% of women 40 to 74 years of age had heterogeneously or extremely dense breasts. This proportion was inversely associated with age and BMI.  An estimated 27.6 million US women aged 40 to 74 years have heterogeneously or extremely dense breasts. Women aged 40 to 49 years account for 44.3% of this group.[vi]

Women can be primed to have increased breast density because of genetic factors, exposure to higher estrogen levels in utero, dietary and lifestyle habits, menstrual and reproductive factors, environmental factors and hormonal signatures. Breast tissue develops primarily during puberty and is altered during pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.[vii] [viii] [ix]

Breast density can be decreased with dietary, nutritional and lifestyle interventions, thus potentially lessening the global burden of breast cancer.  In my naturopathic practice I have seen a decrease in breast density as measured using mammograms or MRIs when women follow some or all of the guidelines listed below.

Ways of Assessing Breast Density

  • Mammography[x]
  • MRI[xi]
  • Ultrasound[xii]
  • Skilled Clinical Breast Exam may not match mammographic exam – high and low densities were detected in 84.5% and 15.5% of clinical breast examinations and 59.7% and 40.3% of mammographies, respectively. There was a significant difference between breast tissue densities in breast examination with those in mammography[xiii]

Mammographic Grading System for Breast Density

In the US the American College of Radiology developed a Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System scoring method using a 1-4 rating system. This classification system allows radiologists to measure and describe breast density as follows:

BI-RADS 1:     less than 25% Dense Breast Tissue

BI-RADS 2:     26-50% Dense Breast Tissue

BI-RADS 3:     51-75% Dense Breast Tissue

BI-RADS 4:    more than 75% Dense Breast Tissue

Age and Breast Density

¾ of women in their 30’s have increased breast density

¼ of women in their 70’s have increased breast density

Causes of Increased Breast Density

There are genetic, neonatal, reproductive, hormonal, lifestyle, dietary, nutritional and environmental factors that can increase breast density.

Genetic Factors that Increase Breast Density

  • twin studies show that breast density is highly heritable, with inherited factors accounting for 63% of cases[xiv]
  • Ashkenazi Jews are more likely to have increased breast density compared to other Caucasians[xv]

Neonatal Factors that Increase Breast Density Later in Life

  • higher birth weight (>4000 grams or 8 lb, 13 oz ) is correlated with premenopausal breast cancer, in comparison to lower birth weight (<2500 grams or 5 lb, 8 oz)[xvi]

Hormonal Factors that Increase Breast Density

Menstrual and Reproductive Factors that Increase Breast Density

  • earlier age at onset of menstruation (<11 yrs old)[xxvi]
  • shorter menstrual cycle length (< 25 days)
  • later age at menopause  (>53 years)
  • premenopausal women have increased density compared to postmenopausal women[xxvii]
  • prior benign breast disease[xxviii]
  • parity (not having children) is significantly inversely associated with breast density
  • mean percent dense breast volume (%DBV) decreases from 20.5 % in nulliparous women to 16.0 % in parous women.
  • breast density is inversely associated with the age women start using hormonal contraceptives
  • breast density increases the longer hormonal contraceptives are used
  • mean %DBV decreases from 21.7 % in women who start using hormones at 12-17 years of age to 14.7 % in those who start using hormones at 22-28 years of age
  • age at which women started using hormonal contraceptives and duration of hormone use are inversely correlated
  • mean %DBV increased from 15.8 % in women who used hormones for not more than 2.0 years to 22.0 % in women who used hormones for more than 8 years[xxix]

Dietary Factors that Increase Breast Density

  • increased red meat consumption, particularly in adolescence[xxx]
  • alcohol consumption[xxxi] [xxxii]
  • saturated fats (meat, butter, ice cream)[xxxiii]
  • high glycemic load, from simple sugars and refined carbohydrates[xxxiv]  [xxxv]

Environmental Factors that Increase Breast Density

  • Postmenopausal women with high serum levels of BPA and mono-ethyl phthalate had elevated breast density[xxxvi]

 

Ways to Reduce Breast Density:

Menstrual and Reproductive Factors that Decrease Breast Density and Cancer Risk

Dietary Recommendations that May Decrease Breast Density:

What to Decrease or Avoid in Your Diet:

  • Decrease or eliminate red meat, transition towards a plant-based diet
  • Decrease saturated fat (meat, butter, ice cream, fatty cheese)
  • Decrease sugar, refined carbohydrates and high glycemic carbohydrates
  • Avoid alcohol or limit to less than 3 alcoholic beverages per week
  • Eliminate caffeine
  • Decrease caloric intake[xli]

Consume Daily:

  • increase fiber to 45 mg/day[xlii] – use chia, flax, legumes, psyllium, rice bran, wheat bran if tolerated
  • use 2 or more Tbsp freshly ground flaxseed[xliii]
  • eat 1-2 cups of legumes[xliv] daily (bean soup, bean dip, bean and grain casserole)
  • eat 6 servings of vegetables daily (2 cups salad, 2 cups steamed vegetables)
  • eat vegetables containing carotenoids[xlv]  (carrots, squash, sweet potato)
  • eat 2 Tbsp or 3000 mg of linolenic acid from flax and/or fish oil[xlvi] [xlvii]. Pour flaxseed oil over rice, pasta, baked potato; add to salad dressing, use in smoothies. Never heat it. Keep refrigerated.
  • use 1 Tbsp olive oil[xlviii]  [xlix]daily in salad dressing
  • use ½ cup organic tofu or 1 glass soymilk[l] daily, or both. Avoid if allergic.
  • drink green tea[li] or take a green tea supplement
  • use rosemary as an herb and as tea

Nutritional Factors that May Decrease Breast Density

  • vitamin D >1750 IU/day[lii] [liii] – recommend 3000 IU or more
  • calcium >700 mg/day[liv]  – recommend it be taken with magnesium glycinate

Other Nutritional Supplements that May Help to Prevent Breast Cancer

Lifestyle Factors that May Help to Prevent Breast Cancer:

  • Exercise 40 minutes a day
  • Spend more lifetime hours in the sun[lxx]
  • Avoid weight gain during adulthood and after menopause
  • Avoid birth control pill and hormone replacement therapy
  • Avoid plastics containing bisphenol-A and phthalates, especially during pregnancy
  • Use organically grown food as often as possible

For more information and guidance on breast cancer prevention and/or recovery, see www.mammalive.net.

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