CHAPTER 11: How Not To Die From Breast Cancer


I have just read this book and it has really made me stop and think about the food I eat.  In How Not to Die, Dr Michael Gregor examines the top causes of premature death for heart disease , cancers, diabetes and more – and explains how nutritional and lifestyle interventions can sometimes trump prescription pills and other pharmaceutical and surgical approaches, freeing us to enjoy better health.

It’s a very BIG book with a HUGE reference section. Every month I’m going to try and pick out the key points for each section and I highly recommend reading the book for yourself. Prevention is better than cure. I am not advising anyone to follow the suggestions in the book, i’m just passing on the information.


Breast cancer does not occur overnight. The lump you find in the shower one morning may have started forming decades ago. We need to choose a diet and lifestyle that not only prevents the initiation stage of cancer but also hampers the promotion stage, during which the cancer grows to a size large enough to pose a threat. One or two cancer cells never hurt anyone. But how about a billion cancer cells. That’s how many there may be in a tumour before it’s picked up on a mammogram.

Like most tumours, breast cancer starts with one cell, which divides to make 2, 4 then 8 etc. Every time the cells divide the tumour can double in size. It only takes 30 doublings to turn a single cell into a billion. Breast cancer can double in size in as few as 25 days to 1000 days or more i.e. 2 yrs. or 100+ before tumours start to cause a problem. Where you fit on that scale may descend in part on what you eat.

Breast cancer screening does not prevent breast cancer, it just picks up existing breast cancer.

Based on autopsy studies as many as 39% women in their 40s already have breast cancer growing within their bodies that may simply be too small to be picked up on a mammogram. That’s why you can’t wait until diagnosis to start eating and living healthier. You should start tonight.

American Institute for Cancer Research states the bottom line is “diets that revolve around whole plant foods, vegetables, whole grains, fruits and beans cut the risk of many cancers and other diseases as well”.

A study followed 30,000 postmenopausal women with no history of breast cancer for 7 years. By drinking less alcohol, eating more plant-based foods and maintaining a normal body weight they achieved a 62% lower risk of breast cancer.

Drink less Alcohol – In 2010, the official World Heath Organisation (WHO) body that assesses cancer risks formally upgraded its classification of alcohol to a definitive human breast carcinogen. In 2014 it clarified its position and stated that regarding breast cancer no amount of alcohol is safe.

The carcinogen isn’t alcohol itself. The culprit is actually the toxic breakdown product of alcohol called acetaldehyde, which can form in your mouth almost immediately after you take a sip). Also, best to refrain from using mouthwash containing alcohol.

However, The Harvard Nurses’ Health study has found drinking only red wine was not associated with breast cancer risk because of the skin of dark purple grapes. A compound in the dark grape skin supresses the activity of an enzyme called estrogen synthase, which breast cancers can use to create estrogen to fuel their own growth. You can get the same benefits from grape juice and eating purple grapes.

Strawberries, pomegranates and plain white mushrooms may also supress the potentially cancer-producing enzyme.


Melatonin regulates sleep and is thought to suppress cancer growth. It’s a hormone produced by your pineal gland that sits in the middle of your brain, your so-called 3rd eye. It’s inactive during the day and once night falls it starts pumping melatonin into your blood stream causing you to feel tired and less alert and think about sleep. It shuts off again at daybreak. Shift workers appear to be more at risk of breast cancer and blind women have half the odds as sighted women.

A higher vegetable intake has been linked to higher melatonin levels in urine therefore less risk.

Physical activity is considered a promising preventative measure against exercise. Not only does it help with weight control, it tends to lower circulating estrogen levels. According to a study you do need to work up a sweat at least 5 times a week to get significant protection.

Darwin was right: it’s survival of the fittest – so get fit!

Eat less meat – HCAs (Heterocyclic Amines) are chemicals formed when muscle meat inc beef, pork, fish & poultry is cooked using high temperatures. PhIP is one of the most abundant in meat and may be involved in every stage of breast cancer development. PhIP levels in urine can drop to zero within 24 hours of refraining from eating meat. Try meatless Mondays.

Note, HCA levels in vegetarians who smoke may approach those of non-smoking meat eaters.

Cholesterol may play a role in the development and progression of breast cancer. Cancer appears to feed on cholesterol. LDL cholesterol stimulates the growth of breast cancer cells in petri-dish experiment.

Preventing (&) treating breast cancer by eating plants

Sadly, even after a breast cancer diagnosis, most women may not make the dietary changes that could help them most, such as consuming less meat and more fruits and vegetables. Maybe they don’t realise that a healthier lifestyle may improve their survival chances.

A study of 15,000 women found making small behavioural changes such as eating 5 or more servings of fruit & veg per day and walking for 30 mins 6 days a week were associated with a significant survival advantage. Those who followed the recommendations appeared to have nearly half the risk of dying from their cancer in the two years following diagnosis.

Fibre – Inadequate fibre consumption may be a risk factor for breast cancer. Researchers found that pre-menopausal women who ate more that the 6g of soluble fibre a day (the equivalent to a single cup of black beans) had 62% lower odds of breast cancer compared with women who consumed only 4g a day.

NHS guideline in UK recommend at least 30g fibre intake per day.

APPLES – Daily apple eaters have 24% lower odds of breast cancer, as well as significantly lower risks of ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer and colorectal cancer.

The cancer protection appears to come from their antioxidant properties contained in their peel. Apple peel appears to reactivate a tumour-suppressor gene called maspin, one of the tools your body appears to use to keep breast cancer at bay.

GREENS – broccoli appears especially protective among premenopausal women but collard greens (kale/spinach) consumption was associated with less breast cancer risk at all ages.

Breast cancer stem cells: What if you’re already fighting breast cancer or are in remission?

Green vegetables may still be protective.

Stem cells are a critical component of the body’s repair system, including re-growing skin, bone & muscle. Breast tissue naturally has many stem cells in reserve, which are used during pregnancy to create new milk glands. They can also turn cancerous and build tumours.

Cancerous stem cells may be why breast cancer can return, even up to 25 years after being fought off the first time.

Chemo drugs and radiation regimes are based on animal models of shrinking tumours, but mutated stem cells may still be lurking, able to rebuild tumours over several years. We need to strike at the root of cancer and target cancer stem cells.

That’s where broccoli may come in. Sulforaphane, a dietary component of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli has been shown to supress the ability of breast cancer stem cells to form tumours (studies from a petri-dish).

To reach the concentration of sulforaphane in the breast found to supress breast cancer cells you would have to eat 12 grams of broccoli sprouts per day. With no downside and only positive side effects go eat that broccoli.

Flaxseeds are purported to have healing properties since ancient Greece and Hippocrates wrote about using them to treat patients. One of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids and they have one hundred times more lignans than any other foods. Lignans are phytoestrogens that can dampen the effects of the body’s own estrogen.

In terms of breast cancer risk, eating a daily tablespoon of ground flaxseeds can extend a woman’s menstrual cycle by about a day. Over a lifetime she’ll have fewer periods and therefore less estrogen exposure & reduced breast cancer risk.

Breast cancer survivors who have higher lignans in their bloodstreams and diets appear to survive significantly longer.

Soya Soyabeans naturally contain another class of phytoestrogens called isoflavones.

Soya seems to lower breast cancer risk, an antiestrogenic effect, but can also help reduce menopausal hot flush symptoms, a proestrogenic effect.

Soya for women with breast cancer….There have been 5 studies on women with breast cancer and soya consumption. Overall women diagnosed with breast cancer who ate the most soya lived significantly longer and had lower risk of breast cancer returning than those who ate less. The quantity of phytoestrogens found in just 250ml soya milk may reduce the risk of breast cancer returning by 25%.