With “Pink Ribbon Day” last week it’s a good time to explore the most common cause of breast lumps. The great news is it’s not cancer.
It is not unusual for a pre-menopausal woman to have thickening in her breast tissue. Lumpy or ‘ropey’ breasts are more common in the second half of your menstrual cycle. However all lumps, big or small, should be checked out by your doctor as soon as possible. Putting off the visit just prolongs your concern and raises your stress hormones.
Fibrocystic breast conditions
About 50% of women, at some point in their life, develop the most common type of benign breast lumps known collectively as fibrocystic breasts. One or both breasts may become swollen, tender or lumpy. Usually symptoms are more pronounced in between ovulating and getting your period and it may be accompanied by slight discomfort through to severe pain.
Fibrocystic breast conditions can include a lot of different type of lumps from cystic (fluid filled) to fibrous (scar tissue).
Whether having fibrocystic breasts makes you more predisposed to developing cancer has been debated for many years. When you are used to finding lumps in your breasts, detecting a cancerous lump by breast self examination can be a little like finding a needle in a haystack. Due to this, a malignant lump is sometimes not investigated until after it has become well developed. But generally it’s considered only if a biopsy of a fibrocystic lump shows abnormal cells (usually referred to as “atypical” or hyperplasia) that it may elevate your risk of developing breast cancer.
From a naturopathic point of view the connection between fibrocystic breast conditions and cancer is they share many of the same triggers. Inflammation is common in both cases so an anti-inflammatory diet is worth following. The following suggestions can also help to reduce breast discomfort and avoid some known breast cancer factors.
Healthy Breast Diet and lifestyle
1. Kick the caffeine – there is a strong connection between breast lumps and pain with coffee, tea, chocolate, all other caffeinated soft drinks and supplements. A caffeine-free diet can reduce the pain.
2. Pull back on the alcohol – women’s bodies’ deal with alcohol differently to men’s due hormonal (not purely body mass) reasons. Alcohol appears to increase incidence of both benign and cancerous breast lumps.
3. Eat more unrefined plant foods, (e.g. wholegrains, fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables and legumes) and less animal products.
4. Start the day with a bowl of oats and some fresh fruit. A 2008 study of over 50,000 women showed that fruit and fibre for breakfast may play a role in reducing breast cancer risk.
5. Dairy foods remain controversial. Eat less dairy products, choose organic when you do and boost your calcium with plant sources like seeds, nuts and wholegrains.
6. Go organic. Chemicals used in conventional farming whether for plants of livestock are a known source of xenoestrogens.
7. Say no to plastic. Some chemicals in plastic have been proven to cause breast cancer. Three of the biggest culprits may be your drink bottle, plastic wrap and microwaving with plastic. Styrofoam is also suspect.
8. Don’t forget to exercise for fun. Being physical can lower stress hormones, as well as reducing fat levels. Both are critical for healthy breasts.
9. Stop popping hormones. Both “natural” (bio-identical) and regular Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) use have been linked to breast cancer. Women using the pill or other hormone delivery methods (implant, injection etc) tend to develop breast swelling.
10. Top up your “B’s”. Vitamin B6 can reduce breast swelling. Aim for at least 50 mg of B6 a day in a B complex. Using over 113 mg of B6 a day on it’s own may cause temporary peripheral nerve problems and reduce the availability of other B vitamins.
Evening Primrose Oil is a commonly prescribed remedy for breast pain but in most cases I find women are taking too low a dose or don’t have the other precursors needed to help EPO make anti-inflammatory biochemicals. The recommended dose for EPO in this condition is 6,000 mg a day to be taken with a good multi-vitamin for the necessary co-nutrients.
More information about breast cancer prevention.
Also check out the latest research in last month’s breast cancer update.