Every year nearly 250,000 women will learn that they are suffering from breast cancer, while approximately 40,000 of them will die from the disease.
In spite of these dire numbers there is hope for prevention, not in the form of risky and invasive surgical procedures or expensive drug therapies - but from nature itself.
Up to a staggering 50% of breast cancer cases are now thought to be preventable through simple changes in diet and lifestyle.
The use of specific agents to prevent cancer from progressing further is called chemoprevention, which can potentially get rid of pre-malignant cells, block progression of normal cells into tumors, and ultimately stop cancer before it is ever detected.
Minerals and vitamins like calcium, selenium, and vitamin D have all shown some efficacy in reducing cancer occurrence.
Peer-reviewed scientific research clearly shows that there are also scores of nutrient molecules with potent, and often multiple chemotherapeutic effects.
A relatively new science called epigenetics reveals how much control we as individuals really have on whether or not we get cancer. The science of epigenetics is the study of long-lasting changes in gene function that do not involve changes in gene structure.
Epigenetics teaches us that we can use factors such as nutrients to turn our genes on and off. These include genes that prevent excessive cell replication and trigger termination of defective cells, both of which contribute to preventing the progression of a normal cell into a cancer cell.
Scores of researched nutrients have potent, and often multiple, epigenetic and chemotherapeutic effects without the side effects seen with the use of drugs like tamoxifen, which the FDA has approved for breast cancer prevention.
For example, the dietary antioxidant curcumin found in the yellow Indian spice turmeric induces cell death in breast cancer cells and prevents them from migrating to other areas in the body, a usually fatal condition known as metastasis.
Studies have shown that curcumin causes breast cancer cells to die by acting at multiple points in their internal signaling pathways. Further, a 2008 study found that curcumin significantly lowered expression levels of several metastasis-promoting genes in cultured breast cancer cells as a possible mechanism underlying its antimetastatic activity.
Clearly curcumin is a promising candidate for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Besides curcumin, there are many other nutrient molecules with equally potent effects on breast cancer and other cancers.
Emerging epigenetics research is poised to tell us how our lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise affect our risk for cancer, and how to gain better control of that risk.