A diagnosis of breast cancer can be very scary. It’s the most common invasive cancer in women, and its incidence is increasing in the developing world due to increased life expectancy, increased urbanisation and adoption of western lifestyle.
How does it take root?
The term breast cancer refers to a malignant tumour that has developed from cells in the breast. Breast cancer cells, like all other types of cancer, initially develop because of defects in DNA. The cancer-causing DNA defects can be acquired at birth or may develop during adult life due to a faulty diet and lifestyle. Just because your family has a tendency towards cancer does not mean that you are doomed to get it too. Diet and lifestyle is 80 per cent responsible, while genetics play the balance of the role. The following unusual changes can be warning signs that need further investigation:
Swelling of all or part of the breast
Nipple pain or nipple turning inward
Nipple discharge other than breast milk
A lump in the underarm area
Diagnosis and symptoms
Most types of breast cancer can be diagnosed by microscopic analysis of the biopsy. Screening techniques are useful, but further testing is necessary to confirm whether a lump that’s detected is cancerous.
Initially, breast cancer may not cause any symptoms. Sometime a new lump or mass can be felt, which is painless, hard and has uneven edges. However,
tender, soft and rounded lumps have also been diagnosed.
Lumps and tumours don’t always threaten your life. Some fatty lumps under the skin do not invade the rest of the body and hence are not lethal. Malignant tumours however are different. They develop roots and begin to burrow into the tissues and spread by generating enzymes that break down body tissues. They also send out ‘seed cells’ through your blood or lymph, which start new growths of their own.
Role of nutrition:
Research has shown that nutritional medicine can help prevent cancer and support its treatment in early stages. Here are some preventive measures:
Maintain a healthy body weight (BMI < 25)
Minimise or avoid alcohol
Minimise exposure to pharmacologic estrogen and xeno-estrogen
Avoid sugar. It feeds cancer and reduces immunity
Check your vitamin B regularly and take supplements if the level is low, or get adequate exposure to sunlight
Take medicines to treat a pre-cancerous condition
Breast feeding (if you’ve had a baby) and consuming a diet rich in antioxidants is desirable
Properly nourished patients experience less nausea, hair loss and organ toxicity. Antioxidants like beta-carotene, selenium, vitamin C and vitamin E appear to enhance the effectiveness of cancer treatments. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential oils and botanicals can enhance the patient’s recuperative powers. Food contains many cancer-fighting properties that neutralise the damage caused by free radicals. Your diet must include the following foods:
Low GI foods such as lentil, beans, barley, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The roughage content of the diet should be adequate
Food rich in omega -3 fatty acids (flax seed, walnuts, oily fish like salmon, mackerel etc and oil like canola, olive oil)
Avocados, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, pepper and jalapeno, citrus fruits like oranges and lemon
Daily consumption of flax seed and garlic is a must for its antioxidant effects
Mushroom, tomatoes, green tea and vitamin E supplements are all helpful
Two-three glasses freshly squeezed vegetable juice every day
A daily diet of lots of fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy products, whole grains and pulses
For women, there is no more dreaded disease than breast cancer. It elicits fears related to loss of body image and sexuality, surgery and death. The fear makes some people avoid going to the doctor. Fighting breast cancer requires a holistic approach that addresses every step from screening to diagnosis and therapy to after-care.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and the founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre