What Everyone Should Know About Breast Cancer : A Q&A With Dr. Cheng Ruan Part One
Breast cancer. Understandably, those two words can incite fear and worry. But we’re in an age when risk reduction and advanced screening and treatment options are more accessible and successful than ever. As breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women worldwide, we feel it’s important to provide an overview of what breast cancer is, how it affects the body, and what you can do to limit your risk of developing the disease.
Below, PrimeMyBody Chief Medical Advisor and founder and lead physician of the Texas Center for Lifestyle Medicine, Dr. Cheng Ruan, provides his insight and knowledge about breast cancer and risk reduction tactics.
To help advance research for a breast cancer cure, PrimeMyBody is donating $1 from each sale of our Special Edition Pink CALM bottles to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation—a leading research organization that believes intensive research is where a cure for breast cancer will be found. For complete donation details and to learn more about BCRF please visit https://bit.ly/2MYI8nK.
Be sure to stay tuned for part two of our Breast Cancer Awareness Q&A series as Dr. Ruan details tips and suggestions that everyone can adopt to help limit their risk of developing cancer via simple phytonutrient eating habits, smart exercising, and stress reduction practices.
From a biological perspective what causes cancers like breast cancer?
Cancer is a word that can trigger a lot of fear in people and I think there is a mystery around what it really is from both the medical side and the general population. To understand cancer, we have to understand our body’s metabolic pathways. What I mean by that is our body’s metabolism, not food to energy, but cellular metabolism—basically how our cells grow, regenerate, and get destroyed. The underlying cellular metabolism of how our body has what we’ll call “cellular turnover”—meaning the rate at which cells get destroyed once damaged—becomes a mixed signal. There are signals within our body to stop the cell destruction cycle. That’s supposed to happen. That’s how various cancers develop. Anything that disrupts cellular metabolism can promote cancer.
What are some of the biggest contributors to the development of breast cancer?
Hands down, physical and mental stress are the biggest contributing factors to every cancer. There are also environmental toxicities like the plastics in our daily lives, pollution, and all sorts of other things that contribute to cancer too. However, we live in a modern world where we may not be able to completely detox from a lot of these things depending on genetics and our life event experiences.
How much of a factor is genetics when it comes to cancer development?
There is a misconception that cancer is purely genetic. Actually, less than 5 percent of cancer is purely genetic. 95 percent is environmental. What many people don’t realize is that there are plenty of things that people can do to minimize the risk of developing cancer even if they have inherited genes that may promote cancer.
What types of breast cancers should women be aware of?
Breast cancers are really divided into two main categories. There’s the category that’s the hereditary breast cancer syndromes. The most famous one is BRCA. That’s the one that Angelina Jolie really talked about and had a bilateral mastectomy, basically having both her breasts removed for prevention purposes. And then the more common version is non-hereditary breast cancers. These cancers can be very sensitive to hormone imbalances in the body. There’s actually cancerous receptors on some of the breast cancers for estrogen or progesterone for example. The idea behind this is a lot of these cancers have signaling that’s triggered by a specific hormone, which means we naturally have to have some sort of hormone balance to minimize the risk of these cancers.
What ways do you suggest to help balance hormones?
Balancing hormones may mean a variety of things like exercise, a lifestyle of eating healthy and getting plenty of different colored plants in your diet to support the immune system. Getting adequate sleep, and making sure that sleep and stress reduction are No.1 on the list because they are the biggest triggers for expression of genes that promote cancer.
There have been reports that mammogram screenings could potentially be harmful. What are your thoughts on this topic?
Yes, there are people who are hesitant to get their breasts screened out of fear or after reading that screening radiation is worse than getting cancer itself. There’s a huge popular misconception that mammograms create so much radiation that it actually worsens breast cancer if you have it. A lot of people are opting for other screening methods that may not be as “toxic”, but these other screening methods may not be as good either. Each method has its own weakness. It doesn’t matter if it’s mammogram, MRI, ultrasound, or thermograms. They all have their weaknesses, but I am a big fan of mammograms because those are quite sensitive and actually pick up things that other modalities can’t do as easily.
The radiation from mammograms we’re talking about is exceptionally low. One mammogram study is equivalent to about 3-4 chest x-rays which is also exceptionally low. But you have to think about the risk versus the benefit. There’s a huge amount of benefit in breast cancer screening. I’ve witnessed it personally in a lot of our patients. No one should really delay that. Just have a good conversation with their physician. I guarantee you can talk about one method of screening and Google anything on the internet that will contradict the benefits. Me, being a researcher and scientist, I’ve looked at every single type of screening modalities and there are few that can beat a mammogram unless certain breast densities may require ultrasounds to be done. Ultrasounds, of course, have no radiation but has its limitations, as well as a primary screening tool unless it is recommended by your physician due to your breast density and architecture.
For more information on mammogram screenings visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and as always be sure to discuss your options with your healthcare provider on what screening may be best suited for you and at what age you should begin routine screenings.
Cancer. The world alone can incite fear and worry. How can we as a society limit the fear factor associated with cancer?
We really have to decrease that fear factor because is not a death sentence anymore. There are major landmark treatments that are out there, but furthermore, there are actually ways we can optimize our body. Most doctors don’t talk about how to optimize the body. Let’s say I have breast cancer, you label me as “breast cancer” and all my doctors see me as someone with breast cancer. But there’s the rest of my body that’s exceptionally important. There’s things people can do every day to improve their immune system, improve cellular detox functions, and even cellular genetics. It’s not like you have a cancer diagnosis and there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s a lot you can do about it and why we created a specific cancer program at the Texas Center for Lifestyle Medicine to educate on this. There’s so many things that women can do right now, but also it’s important not to have a fear of doing too little. Some people will try and Google everything related to the cancers and get the latest fads. But that can lead to contradictions which creates unnecessary stress.