Maneka Sanjay Gandhi
Every October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every year several million women die of breast cancer. My mother died of it. Many of my friends have it. Some have had their breasts removed. Some are undergoing chemotherapy and have lost their hair. It is no longer a hidden disease that one doesn’t talk about. According to the Centres for Disease Control, breast cancer is among the most common causes of death in women. In 2016, 2,45,299 new cases of female breast cancer were reported, and 41,487 women died of breast cancer in the United States. In India the figures are ten times more. One in four women get it and each one of us are nervous that we may be the next victim.
Many product manufacturers cash in on this month by putting pink ribbons on their products, or by colouring them pink. Unfortunately, many of these food products actually increase the risk of breast cancer and the manufacturers are aware of this, so it seems very cynical for them to take part – something like cigarette companies asking for funds for lung cancer research. Kentucky Fried Chicken has pink buckets for their dreadful mess of greasy chicken parts. Bars have pink martinis, sausage companies have pink ribbons.
But the worst is cheese. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has more than 12,000 doctors as members, on October 3, 2019, petitioned the Food and Drug Administration in America to order that cheese manufacturers put a label on their product saying: “Dairy cheese contains reproductive hormones that may increase breast cancer mortality risk.” “Instead of cheese manufacturers, like Kraft, slapping a pink ribbon on products like Philadelphia Cream and Macaroni & Cheese, as they have done during previous Breast Cancer Awareness Months, they should be adding warning labels,” says Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, MD, author of ‘The Cheese Trap and Your Body in Balance’. “We want women to be aware that dairy cheese could put them at risk of dying from breast cancer.”
Estrogens are considered the major pathway to breast cancer. Dairy products contain estrogens from cows, and, when milk is converted to cheese, the estrogens become more concentrated. These estrogens increase breast cancer mortality. A study called Life After Cancer, Epidemiology Study of 2,321 early breast cancer survivors, done by Caan, Sternfeld, Gunderson, Coates, Quesenberry, Slattery, was started in 2000 to examine how behavioural risk factors affect the quality of life and long-term survival. The study followed women for 13 years and found that those women previously diagnosed with breast cancer, who were consuming one or more servings of high-fat dairy products (eg, cheese, ice cream, whole milk) daily, had a 49 percent higher breast cancer mortality, compared with those consuming less than one-half serving daily. Dairy products included milk on cereal; milk by itself, butter, cream, or creamer in coffee or tea, cheese, dairy desserts like ice cream; pudding; custard or flan; low-fat or non-fat frozen desserts and yogurt.
The study also found that women who had higher levels of
physical activity, lower alcohol intake and did not smoke – but ate the highest
amount of dairy – were still at great risk for a recurrence
The study took everything into consideration: age,
ethnicity, family history of breast cancer, severity of disease, pregnancies,
the various treatments (chemo, radiation, tamoxifen), smoking, exercise,
alcohol, fat, and food. And then concluded: all things considered, those
consuming larger amounts of high-fat dairy had higher breast
And this is not the only study confirming the link between dairy and breast cancer.
A 2017 study funded by the National Cancer Institute compared the diets of women diagnosed with breast cancer to those without breast cancer, and found that those who consumed the most cheese had a 53 percent increased risk for breast cancer. The authors say that components in dairy, such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and other growth hormones, may be some reasons for the increased risk for cancer.
The first ever study to assess the association between low- and high-fat dairy and breast cancer survival was done in 2013. The authors, led by Candyce Kroenke, was funded by the National Cancer Institute and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study found that high-fat dairy intake was specifically linked to breast-cancer. Consuming even a minimum of half a serving of high-fat dairy per day increased the risk of dying from the disease. The risk increased as the dairy intake increased.
“Consuming plant-based milks or non-fat dairy products may be a reasonable approach for limiting risk of adverse outcomes,” the study suggested.
Kroenke summed up the study: “In short, this study suggests that to improve survival, breast cancer survivors might shift away from high-fat to lower-fat dairy options, reduce high-fat dairy intake, and shift toward plant-based foods and milks.” Dairy products have been positively associated with other hormonal cancers such as those of the prostate, endometrium, and ovaries and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” the authors point out.
The Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study which included women from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Greece, found that dairy intake was statistically significantly related to higher levels of estradiol and free estradiol . The authors hypothesised that estrogen and progesterone levels are markedly elevated in commercial dairy products, because most of the milk in the West is produced by pregnant cows who have elevated estrogen levels. Cancer is a major public health issue worldwide. 90 per cent–95 per cent of all cancers are attributed to either environmental or lifestyle factors. It is estimated that diet accounts for 35 per cent of all cancer risk.
What can be done to stay alive after being diagnosed with breast cancer – or how not to get it? The answer is the same, no matter which doctor you consult: eat plant-based foods, fruits, whole grains like brown rice and oats, beans like soya, and lentils, exercise, limit alcohol, and aim for a healthy weight. These methods help with weight loss, reduce estrogen levels and give you complete nutrition.
In one study women who consumed more soya lowered their breast cancer risk by 30 per cent. Soya contains protective substances like isoflavones. Avoid meat, specially processed : hot dogs, bacon, lunch meats, sausages, etc.