I’ve never given much thought to my breasts or my breast health. I mean, at least not regularly. I probably thought a lot more about them when I was twelve or thirteen and all my girlfriends were blossoming into tall, busty women. And me? It never happened. I’m only 5 feet tall and if I still had them, could probably fit into the first bras I got when I was thirteen.
Perhaps because my bosom has never been too big, too small, too lumpy, lopsided or painful, or because I’ve never been into showing them off (maybe because there was never much to show at the time in my life I would have been inclined to do so), I’ve never given them that much thought. I don’t fear my breasts getting sick any more than I might worry about my kidneys, my liver or my brain turning on me. My breasts are a part of my body and so just as I care for my total health, my boobs are part of that equation.
But then I was asked to think about my breast health
When my husband started offering a monthly thermography clinic at his office, and the technician was one of my Culinary Nutrition Expert Program coaches, I was in.
And then almost immediately I fell into that fear trap of “Oh god! What if they find something?”
And there was something found – but I’ll get there.
Why mammograms are not my FIRST choice
Here’s the thing about mammograms: they don’t fall on the cancer prevention side of the scale. Not only do they not have utility for preventing cancer, but getting a mammogram is not neutral to your health.
Your hope with regular mammograms is that if there is cancer to be found, it will be found early. But they’re still finding cancer, and only when something is found will a patient be sent for an ultrasound to get more information on what showed up on the x-ray. After a mammogram and an ultrasound, it may be recommended that the patient get a biopsy to determine if the lump is benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Here’s the thing though: if it is cancer and you get a biopsy, there are some studies that say the insertion of the needle and extraction of blood/tissue sample could in and of itself cause cancer to spread. Alternately, if there is malignant cancer and it gets pancaked by a mammogram, the same thing can result.
I appreciate that this is a very personal decision. Here are two articles for further reading:
- This article in the New York Times dives deeper into the factors to consider
- Vast Study Casts Doubts on Value of Mammograms
The CHALLENGE with “Standard Of Care” cancer screening
They’re screening for the presence of cancer.
I appreciate that you may not be ready to completely forgo the screening recommended by your primary health care provider. This choice – as with all health choices – is very personal, often emotionally charged and sadly, usually includes fear.
What I want to share, however, is one very real challenge with standard of care screening recommendations (as endorsed by both the Canadian government and several Canadian and US cancer organizations) – all they can do is screen for early detection. There are no tools in place to screen for early prevention. See, in most cases, cancer doesn’t just appear overnight. It can take ten or even twenty years to become detectable. We all have cancer cells in our body, but there are various factors that will influence whether those cancer cells are given fuel. Wouldn’t it be better to never get cancer at all?
I have been getting somewhat attacked for this post across social media. I’m okay with that. It happens when you challenge a paradigm. And of course there are the women whose cancer was detected with a mammogram, or who had a mammogram that detected something not caught in a thermography screening.
There are many combinations of options and we will always have a tendency to side with that which serves us. That being said, the evidence exists is that mammograms are not neutral for our health, and that the hight rate of false positives from mammograms is extremely high. You may find this study form the New England Journal of Medicine of interest that states “substantial over diagnosis, accounting for nearly a third of all newly diagnosed breast cancers, and that screening is having, at best, only a small effect on the rate of death from breast cancer.”
If only as much attention was paid to prevention, as it is to early detection.
What if there was a way to know, well before cancer is detected, whether there is anything to be concerned about? What if you could take a look inside your body and see where the warning lights are flashing?
The Role of Thermography as a Tool For Prevention
One ongoing challenge, and one my mom experienced first-hand after an abnormal thermography exam is that if something is detected you will have to find a doctor who will refer you for an ultrasound, allowing you to bypass the now redundant radiation of the mammogram.
And This Was What Shocked Me…
I felt, intuitively, that my breast health was good. As I said before, they’ve never caused me any problems, never been the squeaky wheel in my health, so in spite of my initial “What if they find something?” fear, I knew my boobs were good.
What surprised me was my teeth. I’ve had problems with my jaw for years since I was in a really bad car accident. My jaw is misaligned and I have heavy clenching issues (yes, I have a night guard, go to cranial sacral, listen to theta waves before bed… do it all). And despite knowing that there is a connection between root canals and breast cancer, it never crossed my mind that my jaw issues were my greatest risk factor to my breast health. It didn’t occur to me that my nighttime clenching and grinding – despite all of my organic food, regular saunas, breast oil massages and dry brushing – is increasing my risk of breast cancer.
Getting Back to the BREASTS
We are often led to believe that our boobs are standalone parts of our body – that if we have a gene, cut out everything effected; if we have a lump, cut it out; if we have cancer in one breast, cut off the other. And those might very well be the solutions that make the most sense to you.
But let’s also not forget about the whole system. Why is the cancer there in the first place? Where is the root of the problem and are we addressing that? We can remove our breasts as a prevention method to breast cancer, just as we can remove our colon to prevent colon cancer, our kidneys to avoid kidney cancer, brain to avoid brain cancer, and peel off all of our skin to prevent skin cancer. (Though have you ever heard of men being told to have their testicles or prostate removed as a preventative measure?) If we removed all of the parts of us that could get cancer, there’d be nothing left of us but a beating heart.
Is this the best we can do for our breast health?
What actions can we take to ensure the health of the cells that make up the tissues, fluids and organs? How can we get a step ahead of early detection, maintain our breast health, and focus on early prevention?
Taking action towards prevention doesn’t guarantee us a cancer-free life, but does that mean it’s not worth trying?
The journal Science published a study suggesting that “bad luck” was the root of most cancers. As Bill Couzens, Founder of Lesscancer.org, stated in this article for the Huffington Post: “The estimated number of annual new cancer diagnoses is expected to jump to 22 million over the next decade, with developing countries most at risk. We need answers about the causes of those diagnoses. We have our eye on the wrong questions, and in turn, pursue the wrong solutions. Correlation has been confused with causation.”
Preventative Measures We Can All Take for our Breast Health
- Meditate daily to help bring down those inflammatory levels.
- Exercise regularly to help prevent stagnation in the body.
- Sweat out the toxins, whether it be through exercise or sauna.
- Drink clean water.
- Reduce the chemical exposure in your home and workplace (this includes food, cleaning products, clothes, makeup, etc.).
- Dry skin brush daily to help the lymph (your body’s waste removal system) keep your blood flowing.
- Regular breast massage (I use this oil*), not just monthly self-exams, to keep your breast tissue healthy.
- Get a Computer Regulation Thermography test done to get yourself a baseline and work with a natural health care practitioner or functional medicine expert to get a program in place that addresses any concerns that may come up.
- Get regular bodywork (yoga, massage, osteopathy, chiropractic, cranial-sacral, acupuncture – whatever your preference).
- Consider getting a few functional tests done (including iodine, vitamin D levels and hormone levels).
- Take off your bra as often as possible (and whenever comfortable to do so). By wearing bras, we constrict our breast tissue and prevent our lymph from circulating and detoxifying all the toxins we accumulate.
A Few More Books and Articles
- A World Without Cancer by Dr. Margaret Cuomo
- Cancer and Random Genes: Fortune Favors the Prepared by Dr. David Katz
- Cancer: New Science on How to Prevent and Treat It by Dr. Mark Hyman
28 responses to “Optimal Breast Health and Breast Cancer Prevention”
Amazing, article Meghan! Thanks so much for sharing and letting people know there are options to having a mammogram!
Thank you Tara!
Thank you for the article. I agree that having a ‘garage door’ smashing the crap painfully out of your breasts cannot be the only way to go. However, your suggestions as to ‘how to (allegedly help to) prevent” all cost money that most of us do not have.
Also, this thermography sounds great – if you have what is likely to cost LOTS. NO WHERE on their website do they offer the costing of initial nor follow up visits, and while I’m sure they will return calls, they haven’t answered the phone so far.
We love what you have to say, and how you say it, but if you are going to post a commercial then please post all the facts – cost being a major consideration for those of us who don’t get called to try their service and write about it.
FYI, for some concerns I started with Ultrasound so as to avoid The Smash, and the tech was the most incompetent and unprofessional woman I have ever encountered. I share this so you can BEWARE of where you go, and just because a place has a ‘great’ reputation, if you don’t feel good about it, LEAVE. Even if you already went to the trouble to go all the way there, and undress, and contort as she demanded…. I should have left, and now have to do it all over again – once the infection I got from their unsanitary wands goes away, that is. For all that trouble I would love to just head for a test like this that you write about, but for sure can’t afford it.
What was amazing, as are most things you post in being interesting and a learning opp, was the jaw grinding being associated with breast health.
Yes- these functional tests do cost money. However, most of the preventive suggestions I offered are free- breast massage, a dry skin brush (or even a rough wash cloth), deep breathing, gentle exercise and avoiding chemicals are not costly endeavours- they just require attention, commitment and an attitude shift. I believe the full assessment is $400 which is an investment for sure but to me, there’s nothing more valuable than my health, and nothing more costly than being sick.
Hi Meghan! For years I clenched my jaw and grinded my teeth and although a mouthguard saved my teeth from the grind – it didn’t solve the actual problem, cost a lot of money, let saliva sit against my teeth all night, and made me look like a boxer. One (amazing) dentist fitted me for a NTI device and not only did it stop the grinding, it stopped my clenching. I no longer need to wear it – it ‘taught’ my brain to stop. Small piece that fits over the front top teeth. I highly recommend looking into it. Saved my teeth as well as morning jaw pain. Not quite sure why the NTI isn’t the go-to device vs. the full night guard.
DO you have any more information? or a contact? And do you know if the device was BPA-free?
This is really an outstanding article Thank you so much! I am sending the link to many women smile xoxoxo
Thank you for kind words and for sharing it!
Thanks Meghan for sharing your experiences on this. I think you’ll really enjoy checking out Breast Cancer Action (bcaction.org) based in California – they are the best independent source for breast health, breast cancer prevention, detection and treatment options, and advocacy around prevention in particular looking at environmental and systemic issues to address.
Thank you for sharing that awesome resource!
Hi Meghan –
I’m interested in functional testing. Where can one have this done?
Check out the Institute of Functional Medicine’s website as they will have a list of practitioners. As well, my husband Josh (http://joshgitalis.com) also offers some testing.
GREAT post, Meghan. I am working on becoming a holistic nutritionist myself, and often just kind of file myself in the “super healthy” category. Your article reminds again me that we are complex beings and that there are always areas to pay attention to. I think I forget as well that I’m not 20 anymore…I’m 33…and I think it’s time I went and got scanned and looked at an overall action plan for myself, working with who I am TODAY. Thanks!
What a great plan! Get your baselines checked every so often so you know what you’re working with. Super Healthy doesn’t exist unless we’re always making adjustments.
I can totally relate to this! What a great read Miss Meghan <3
Last year I was treated (surgery) for ovarian cancer. With wanting to get pregnant now and a history of cancer in my family (but not genetic), my GP suggested I get a mammogram before I become pregnant, just in case. I am not so keen on mammograms either, so I asked a naturopathic specialist for cancer what she thought about them and alternatives. She had worked with thermography directly for a while and in her experience results were varied and inconclusive, so now she does not recommend thermography at all. I’ve also spoken to a woman whose breast cancer did not show up when she did thermography. The best bet? Ask for an ultrasound instead (and save yourself hundreds of dollars and possible unnecessary stress because of potentially wrong results in the process).
I’m not sure where you live, but in Canada it is very difficult to get directly to an ultrasound. As well- the thermography I’m referring to here may not have been the same kind that your naturopath was offering- this technology is only starting to become more widely available in North America- so best not to write it off completely. In my case, an ultrasound still won’t detect any early warning signs- only detection.
I can’t speak to old vs new technology and which she may have used. However, regarding the ultrasound, I’m in my 30s and live in Ontario and it’s not an unusual request and at times it’s the preferred first step for a woman of my age.
Thank you Meghan for this article and Amy for sharing your story. Having also researched this myself, thermography does seem to be the earliest detection method. I have refused mammograms for years now and just asked my family doctor for a referral for the ultrasound. As she knows that I don’t have any family history or other associated risk factors and when I explained that I did not want the radiation exposure and that there are too many false positives, she simply wrote up the requisition. She told me that ultrasound would be the follow-up test anyway if there was anything detected on a mammogram. The way I look at it, I avoid unnecessary radiation and multiple tests and OHIP doesn’t get paid twice. Of course, prevention in the form of proper nutrition and supplementation is the best course of action.
Also, this statement may be of interest: “Screening Breast Thermography: Perspective from the Clinical Therapeutics Committee of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM)”
It still states that we can’t win either way – mammography vs thermography. The odds are still against us in detecting anything definitive from these methods. So, I agree with Bettina: just go for an ultrasound! But, personally, I still would not trust thermography for early signs either.
And, in truth, specialists did not detect via ultrasound that my ovarian cyst was cancer (they thought it was dermoid); so, for some women’s gynaecological and breast issues, there may not be any other full-proof way of knowing if it’s cancer other than a PET CT scan (which is only specially ordered and uncommon for use in Ontario, and obviously not ideal because it’s radiation), biopsy (also has its dangers if positive) or surgery (which takes a big toll on the body).
Here’s to hoping some better ‘clean’ technology eventually comes through!
I work at an Integrative doctors office in Cincinnati Ohio where we do breast thermographies and we were wondering if we could use this link on our website. It is a wonderful description of therms and why mammograms are so bad. It would be wonderful to spread the word! Thanks for your consideration.
Absolutely! The more who are informed about this, the better!
I had breast cancer in 2008, several mammograms, ultrasound and biopsy later, I had a lumpectomy, 35 radiation treatments followed. I see my GP every 3 months and have an annual physical. I also see my Oncologist annually. I have an annual mammogram and have had to have an ultrasound once after. My oncologist told me to continue annual mammograms even if I’m told I don’t need them that often. I am 66 years old and my friends are being told every 2 and 3 years is fine now. I have had mammograms since I was 50 years old. If they are my crutch then so be it, I feel protected. I love your article.
One of my wife’s close friends is going through this and is very saddening for her and the entire family as she has young kids. This is a very helpful article and I’ll be sure to pass it on. Thanks!
Thanks for this info! I remember you posting this or something similar a while back and it helped me make the decision to forego a mammogram for myself. I have fibrocysts on my breasts and have had many ultrasounds so I thought why do I need the mammogram if they’re just going to send me to get an ultrasound right after? Also my doctor wanted me to get it as a ‘just in case… might as well…’ type of thing which was annoying.
I’m now learning that fibrocysts are related to excess estrogen in the body so I’m going that route now. Thanks again for the info!
Great article! Thank you for all your tips and resources. What are your thoughts on MRIs? They seem to be lower risk (and if a woman is high risk for breast cancer and eligible, she can access MRIs through Princess Margaret hospital). Also do you use ground flax seed as a cancer preventative?
My first choice is thermography, but it’s up to women to consult with their doctors about whether an MRI would be an optimal choice given their unique situation. I have a full post about flax and how I use it here: https://www.meghantelpner.com/blog/grain-free-flax-crackers/.