We've been told that women have a one in eight lifetime risk of getting breast cancer. To the statistically naive, this appears to mean that one in eight women will be stricken at some point in her life. However, it's not that simple. Here is a chart developed by the US National Cancer Institute of the statistical chances of developing breast cancer, according to ages:
At age 20: 1 in 2500
At age 30: 1 in 233
At age 40: 1 in 63
At age 50: 1 in 41
At age 60: 1 in 28
At age 70: 1 in 24
At age 80: 1 in 16
At age 95: 1 in 8
Looks quite different, doesn't it? The risk increases with age, and the one in eight figure applies only if you live to be 95.
What the NCI and other cancer organisations fail to consider are certain environmental factos which may be responsible for the growing epidemic of breast cancer.
Fat is always suspected as a culprit in breast cancer, but studies give conflicting results and the issue is not conclusive. While a French study found an increased risk with the consumption of saturated fat (Eur J Epidemiol, 1998; 14: 737-47), the famous Nurses Study at Harvard University did not (JAMA, 1999; 281: 914-20).
It is often mentioned that Japanese women, with their traditional low fat diets, have little if any breast cancer, but when they come to the US they soon catch up.
I maintain that fat is not the issue milk products are. The Japanese diet has no milk products, but now that they are picking up "Western" dietary habits, their use of dairy produce is rising and so is their incidence of breast cancer.
The highest rates of the disease are in Northern Europe (Finland, Sweden and Holland), the UK, the US and Canada all countries where cow's milk is a major food. Frequent consumption of whole milk has been found to be a risk factor in cancers of the lung, bladder, breast and cervix (Nutrition Cancer, 1990; 13: 89-99).
Even more interesting, breast cancer patients were found to have twice as high a consumption of vitamin D (usually added to milk) as cancer free controls (Can J Public Health, 1991; 82: 300-3).
Outwater, Nicolson and Barnard of Princeton University theorise that the problem with dairy products is their content of both hormones and growth factors. In particular, they are concerned about IGF-1 oestrogen and bGH (bovine growth hormone). These may be implicated in the growth of breast cancer cells (Med Hypotheses, 1997; 48: 453-61).
In a Norwegian study of more than 25,000 women, those who consumed three glasses of milk daily had almost three times the risk of developing breast cancer as those who drank a half cup or less (Int J Cancer, 1995; 63: 13-7).
Interestingly, a Japanese study on rats found, contrary to the expectations of the researchers, that milk and yoghurt enhanced the development of breast tumours, as did margarine (Cancer Detect Prev, 1994; 18: 415-20).
Sugar and flour are also implicated in breast cancer research, as are heavier meats. A large, controlled study of 2,569 women with breast cancer compared to 2,588 control women was carried out in Italy between 1991 and 1994. It found that breast cancer increases with the intake of bread and cereal dishes, sugar and pork meat, and decreases with the intake of vegetable oils, raw vegetables, fish, beta-carotene, vitamin E and calcium (Biomed Pharmacother, 1998; 52: 109-15).
In their book Dressed to Kill (New York: Avery Publishing Group: 1995), Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer observe that breast cancer is as much as four times higher in cultures where women use bras (Europe and North America), than in those that don't (Singapore, Malay, rural Poland, Bombay and Native American). They found an increased risk of breast cancer with the use of tight bras, which can leave red marks on the shoulders and under the breasts, particularly if they were worn for more than 12 hours.
Tight bras also interfere with breathing, which may in turn cause oxygen deprivation in the cells. In their study, Singer and Grismaijer found that women who wear their bras more than 12 hours a day have a 21 fold higher risk of breast cancer than women who wear them less than 12 hours daily; and women who wear a bra 24 hours a day have a 125 fold increase of breast cancer incidence, as compared to women who wear no bras at all.
I personally have a great antipathy to underwire bras: the metal in them crosses the body acupuncture meridians, and so can block the normal flow of the body's energy, which the Chinese call c'hi. According to the principles of Chinese medicine, this blockage can in turn cause stagnation and disease.
Bra wearing is a cultural habit, as is the consumption of dairy products. It's hardly surprising that much in our 20th century lifestyles is literally making us sick.