How do cancerous tumors travel from one area of the body to another? Researchers are still working on answers to what causes metastases, but science took a step closer to a solution thanks to a study released last week in the journal Nature. A team of researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center injected chromosomally instable tumor cells into mice and found that these tumor cells were many times more likely to spread and form new tumors, compared to cancer cells that show less instability. When a cell has unstable chromosomes, it means that either entire chromosomes or parts of chromosomes are duplicated or deleted.
It’s this instability that researchers suspect is at the core of what drives metastasis. Why? Because when your chromosomes are imbalanced some of your DNA can break away, and in the case of tumor cells this can it cause cancer to spread. This rogue DNA can form micronuclei (mini-nuclei), which aren’t as strong as nuclei and they can rupture, and when they do DNA is leaked into the cell membrane. This can happen in noncancerous ordinary cells too, but in these cases your body knows to trigger an immune response that usually causes the cell to shut down (aka: cell death). Usually, cell death is a good thing because it’s a way for your body to get rid of cells that will cause more damage than good. Your body has millions of cell deaths every day in order to weed out old and damaged cells and to make room for new healthy cells. It appears, according to the investigators of the study I just mentioned, that aggressive tumor cells have found a loophole and are able to sidestep death and go on wreaking havoc. Your body doesn’t get the message to stop these cells, and the result are tumor cells that are able to detach and spread the damage in other areas of the body.
Phew. What’s the take away for you? In my office, I meet women at varying points in their cancer journey, but wherever you are there are many steps you can take to reduce and prevent your cancer risk. Read on for the most powerful steps you can take:
Hormone Herstorians- Understand Your Hormones
Preventing cancer requires a thorough understanding of your hormones and how they may be influenced by the environment, diet, and lifestyle. Some women are poor metabolizers of estrogen; they fail to break down estrogen effectively. This results in poor estrogen detoxification, leading to the concept of estrogen dominance. Dense, lumpy breasts, fibroids, ovarian cysts and endometriosis are all signs of estrogen dominance. For women with estrogen dominance, birth control pills, in vitro fertilization, and environmental estrogens can aggravate this functional medicine issue. Other hormones also influence estrogen status. Sluggish thyroids, high insulin levels and high progesterone can also activate breast cancer genetics. Be sure to have your levels checked. Here’s what I recommend checking each year along with the ranges you are looking to hit:
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH): 1-2 U/ml
- Free triiodothyronine (free T3): 3-5 ng/do
- Estradiol: 50-150 pg/ml
- Progesterone: 5-2.0 ng/ml
- Estrone: <150 ng/do
- DHEA: 100–200 ng/ml
- C-peptide: 1–3 ng/ml
- Leptin: 5–15 umol/l
Detox Your Diet
Numerous studies show that diets high in plant based foods lower the risk of cancer, especially estrogen receptor negative cancers. Increasing daily consumption of fruits and vegetables to include six to eight servings per day, helps to metabolize estrogen and stabilize insulin.
Lowering consumption of meat, dairy and gluten to less than one serving per day also improves hormone metabolism. When consuming meat and dairy, it is best to choose organic products to lower exposure to xenoestrogens and added industrial hormones.
Sleeping Beauty Had it Right
Women need consistent sleep cycles, at least 5 nights per week. We know from prior studies that shift workers often have higher rates of breast cancer compared to their peers. Maintaining a consistent sleep cycle is critical for hormone balance.
Every woman should know this word. The ability to use certain nutrients, like B vitamins, plays a large role in estrogen metabolism. Inability to methylate results in estrogen dominance and increased risk for breast cancer. Methylation capacity can be tested, helping you and your doctor establish a thorough understanding of hormone metabolism, detoxification and nutrient status.
Cancer cells typically select low oxygen environments. Increasing your body’s oxygenation, through exercise, juicing and decreased intake of acidic foods helps reduce inflammation and to prevent expression of cancer genetics.
Watch Your Toxic Load
Women today are bombarded with information about toxins and their role in cancer. Should we use a different makeup? Should we change household cleaners? The information is overwhelming, ultimately leaving many of us paralyzed. Today, it’s more important than ever to be aware of toxins in your environment, especially because the EPA has loosened some guidelines regarding new chemicals.
I personally believe it is impossible to avoid all toxins in our environment. What we can do is manage our toxic load, by choosing organic produce, hormone free meats, and decreasing exposure to toxins that we know wreak havoc on hormones: parabens, pthalates and organophosphates. There are many resources to help understand where these chemicals may be coming from, including the Environmental Working Group ( EWG, ewg.org) and a survey that I created, “Managing Your Toxic Load.” ( http://doctortaz.com/toxic/what-is-your-toxic-load/) Eliminating toxins also requires a healthy colon and liver.
Extreme or chronic stress can activate cancer. There are many women who are newly diagnosed after a divorce or a loss. We know the science behind stress; the cortisol swings affect insulin which then triggers inflammation. It is difficult to lead a stress free life but having good habits to manage stress can help mitigate the damage. Everyone should have a daily stress reduction plan, even if it is just 15 minutes per day. Exercise, meditation, prayer and connection are all common ways of routinely managing stress. Additionally, scheduling at least a few hours per week of recovery from stress can help to keep stress hormones balanced. Try acupuncture, yoga, massage or tai chi as weekly stress solutions.