4 natural ways to prevent breast cancer
By Dr Amir Farid Ishak
Breast cancer continues to plague us relentlessly. Despite the enormous amount of research done, modern medicine still cannot save many of those unlucky enough to have this modern-day disease, although some progress has been made. Now those with Stage 1 breast cancer can hope for over 90 per cent chance of cure.
I am a proponent of holistic integrative medicine (combining the best of modern, natural and complementary medicine) and I believe the prevention and management of breast cancer can benefit much from this approach.
So what are the natural means that can help mitigate the problem? Let us explore several simple but important modifiable factors that can help make a difference.
The importance of adequate sleep
A recent study on 412 post-menopausal women with breast cancer showed that lack of sleep (six hours or less a night) is linked to more aggressive breast cancers, and higher risk of recurrence (reported in August 2012 issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment).
The conclusion could also be read as having adequate sleep (more than six hours) gives better prognosis.
Although this study was on postmenopausal women, it still underlines the possible important role of having adequate sleep for all women with breast cancer, and extrapolating it further, the possible impact on other cancers as well as in cancer prevention. Let us hope that studies on other cancers are also carried out.
The authors concluded that: "Effective intervention to increase duration of sleep and improve quality of sleep could be an under-appreciated avenue for reducing the risk of developing more aggressive breast cancers and recurrence."
In 2010, based on experimental and epidemiological work, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that work schedules that disturbed the circadian rhythm probably increase cancer risk.
The circadian rhythm regulates our wakefulness and sleep, controls numerous biological functions, and is disturbed in people who work at night or who have irregular working hours.
One hypothesis is that exposure to light during the night eliminates the nocturnal melatonin surge, disturbing the functioning of the biological clock genes that control cell proliferation, and/or the immune system.
Researchers in France had examined the effect of night work on the health of 3,000 women in a major study carried out between 2005 and 2008. They found that the risk of developing breast cancer was 30 per cent higher in women who had worked nights compared to women who had never worked nights.
This increased risk was particularly marked in women who had worked nights for over four years, or in women whose working rhythm was less than three nights per week, because this led to more frequent disturbances between night and day rhythms.
The risk was highest for women who had worked at night prior to their first pregnancies. This has serious implications to our nurses and other female night-shift workers.