GUEST COLUMN - Being proactive about your breast health

Friday, February 15, 2013 - 16:02

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By Verna Hunt

Women and girls of all ages in today’s culture are stamped with the colour pink as the fantasy for the fairy princess lives they are lead to believe they should yearn for. It is like a plastic film that society puts over us at birth. Onward from birth they are made to think that nothing other than a fantasy life should ever happen to them. Never get old. Never get sick. Never be sad or mad or frightened. Women should be perfect—in pink. This is not reality. As a result women often feel that they are not “good enough” in the inevitable imperfect lives they lead, and their breasts are no exception.

Another unreality propagated by campaigns such as “the pink” is that there is a cure for every disease and that it can be discovered if the medical scientists just have enough money to discover this magic bullet cure.

Our culture does not teach coping strategies for tragedies such as someone near and dear to us or even ourselves developing a disease such as breast cancer. So, in an effort to turn our understandable emotional strife into something constructive, crusades such as the Pink Ribbon Campaign have evolved. Often they end up as a business enterprise unto themselves more interested in keeping the organization going than looking at how to serve humanity.

But what is the point of it all? Is the point to find the cure for breast cancer, or is the point to find the cause for lack of breast health? The Pink Ribbon Campaign is a distraction from what is really going on with breast health. All of the pink sound bites urge us to pitch in and find the cure like there is a missing link of knowledge, a holy grail, the one thing that will solve it all. Our society tries to commodify everything as if we all have the exact same disease. It is like assuming that we all wear the same size and style of shoes.

Another part of the pitch is that mammograms prevent breast cancer. They do not (See Mammography screening: Weighing the pros and cons). Mammograms detect structural masses that could be cancerous and this can only be confirmed with a biopsy examined by a pathologist. The key initial question should be: why and how do masses or tumours form in the first place and what can be monitored to discern if tissue is showing signs of building masses? Certainly the Pink Ribbon Campaign has raised awareness that there is something very significant going on when one in four women living around the Great Lakes of central eastern North America will have breast cancer in their lifetimes.

Cancer and our environment

The general scientific thought has been that breast cancer occurred in those with a genetic predisposition. While this is a factor, when we look at the world statistics available, the evidence  points to industrialized areas such as the Great Lakes of North America having one of the highest incidences. Why might that be so? The short answer is environmental pollution and the inability to neutralize its dangerous effects. For more information on this please read Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber, and watch the film by the same name.

We need to look at the many factors  that contribute to  cancer because we live in a multifactorial environment.

The human body has abnormal or cancer cells in it all of the time but our immune system, largely via the white blood cells, spots the out-of-the-ordinary cells and kills them off (apoptosis). The immune system also cleans up dead abnormal cells, viruses, bacteria, pollution, old hormones all of the time, 24/7. The microcirculation via  lymph vessels then drains this lymph fluid and delivers the debris to our filters or “emunctories,” primarily the liver and kidneys although other organs have filtering functions as well.

Our filters break down the debris that the immune system has delivered but these organs can get clogged up just like the vacuum cleaner filter when you forget to clean it out. With clogging, the normal excretion via urine, stool, breath, skin and menses is incomplete and even the excretion routes can get clogged up. Constipation is an example of this and is more common than anyone wants to admit.

The miracle of the immune system is that each person develops an individualized non-specific immunity by six or seven years old and then a specific immunity largely complete by the age of puberty. That is, the immune system normally develops our defence system unless it is interfered with and interrupted from maturing. Interrupters could include but are not limited to adverse drug reactions, pollutants and pesticides such as xeno-estrogens (chemicals that mimic estrogen and attach to estrogen receptor sites causing abnormal reactions), lack of normal nutrients from empty processed foods and hormonal imbalances created through such things as prolonged stress.

Reducing the toxic load

Throughout recorded history every indigenous culture that existed for any length of time developed some sort of cyclical cleansing or detoxification method. They used what was available: fermented foods, herbs, water, sun, breath/air, saunas, bathing in hot springs and so on. Even in the animal kingdom you will see dogs for example eat fresh grass that contains chlorophyll and trace minerals to assist in the cleansing process. It is instinctual to clean our filters. The most obvious one in the human body is to exchange the normal 70% of body weight that is water.

We now live in a time of the greatest load of physical and non-physical toxins in recorded history. Chemically there are things going into the human body that were never made to be there such as petrochemical derivatives and asbestos. When the immune system and the filters do not know what to do with something, it can get parked in tissues. Over time, this load causes irritation and can lead to a dysfunction in the cells, resulting often in swelling and inflammation. Eventually these changes cause cellular mutations and can lead to cancer cells.

In addition to the physical toxic load, the non-physical load is mounting in terms of noise pollution, over-information from cyber space and on and on. We have to sort out all of these stimuli as well as sorting out the chemical soup toxifying our bodies. There is just too much sorting to do for all of our physical, emotional, cognitive and, some would say, energetic bodies. The filters are getting more and more clogged and our bodies are carrying around a load of rubble and debris that impair our immune resilience.

Women have a greater quantity of hormones to sort out and thus their load of sorting is larger, compounded by multiple roles as wage earner, child bearer and mother, food procurer and preparer, health care provider and decision maker, housekeeper and property organizer, and ringmaster of the modern family. Many of us are familiar with this chaos. Doing everything all of the time so that we experience everything except silence, stillness and relaxation. It is as if we are always breathing in and never breathing out. We need to exhale.

Research has shown that women who have breastfed have a lower incidence of breast cancer. While not all women choose to breastfeed, breasts need not become a parking lot for metabolic debris. We can avoid toxins to some degree through lifestyle choices such as: eating adequate fibre, healthy oils, additive free and non-overly processed foods, four or more cups of steamed or raw vegetables daily, seasonal fresh local raw fruit, drinking adequate amounts of clean water; adequate rest and relaxation; time in nature; enjoyable exercise and body movement; nurturing companionship and development of self-worth. Admittedly, these options are not readily available to all women.

Specific breast health therapy could include hands-on therapeutic breast massage techniques which are done by trained licensed professionals, usually a registered massage therapist. These specialized massage techniques assist in normalizing breast tissue function throughout a woman’s life, particularly pre and post breast feeding. The massage stimulates the lymph system in the breast to aid in drainage of any stored debris, and can aid in decreasing fibrocystic milk duct tissues and gently release adhesions.

Because of the compounding effects of environmental toxins in our bodies we need to cleanse now more than ever. However, it is not simple because of the complexity of toxins like toluenes, heavy metals, polyvinyl chlorides and dioxin all mixing together like soup and creating new reactions that we have no way as yet to measure. How can we safely get the body to excrete these “super toxins”?

Ideally detoxification, or cleansing, must be individualized to each person’s needs by a qualified health care professional, guided by a woman’s personal assessment of her means. In the case of breast health this professional would monitor breast health proactively in concert with the overall health picture of the individual. Tests using blood, hair, breath, heat (digital infra-red thermography), saliva, stool, etc. can indicate changes long before a pathological disease or even pronounced dysfunction is present. Results are correlated with a thorough consultation and physical examination, looking at findings that consider causation of symptoms and also determine how to improve total function on all levels. 

Although there are many licensed professionals trained and available to do this, such as naturopathic doctors, holistic medical doctors, etc., the cost for this out-of-pocket care is high for many. Our culture does not encourage people to invest in their health, but rather to pay vast quantities of  money to the disease care industry once people have a disease that is “treated” and “managed” with a patented prescription drug.

Being proactive

Proactive cyclical methods of cleaning our natural filters can be done safely at home to begin the necessary process of detoxification. Lifestyle choices that are affordable might include: eating only vegetable broth soup for a day, taking regular saunas, walking in a forest reserve, taking a one-to-seven-day break from cyber space including news, Internet, television and radio. Taking a pause from just being too busy and over stimulated. Although these efforts seem trivial, research has shown that something as accessible as a 30-minute walk in a forest can positively impact the immune system for up to one month after taking the walk.

Controversy abounds about breast self-examination [see Network article, Breasts Self-examination] but if you can wash your face every day and know if there is a new pimple just by touching, then saying “Hello girls” to your breasts as you shower or bathe will reveal changes. This friendly familiarity by touch will help you know if the breast texture pattern changes without terrifying yourself by looking for “the lump.”  Teaching girls at a young age what normal breasts look like will help pubescent girls to have normal acceptance and appreciation of their breasts. To educate girls using non-sexual pictures of breasts, check out the 007 Breasts website

Other proactive breast care choices include: avoiding body care products with harmful chemicals like those found in some deodorants and clothes detergents and fabric softeners that are potentially carcinogenic; and not wearing restrictive and in particular underwire bras that impede normal blood and lymph flow causing congestion of toxins.

So when you see the Pink Ribbon Campaign imploring you to walk for “the cure” I would offer you an alternative focus and direct you to the Pink and Green Ribbon Campaign, which focuses on the connection between breast health and the environment and what you can do to be proactive about your breast health [additional resources listed below].


Dr. Verna Hunt, B.Sc., D.C., N.D. has been practising as a chiropractic and naturopathic doctor, for over 30 years.  She owns and operates The Centre for Health and Well Being in Toronto established in 2005. She acts as a medical advisor to colleagues and companies, which service holistic health care. Dr. Hunt writes, speaks and teaches presenting through her organization Being Well Communications. She is a long time member and promoter of CWHN. Contact her through or 416-604-8240.


Additional resources on breast cancer prevention:

Women, plastics and breast cancer section of CWHN website

CWHN – Get the Word Out! About breast cancer prevention

Breast Cancer Action Montreal (BCAM) 

Breast Cancer Fund in the United States