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October is Breast Cancer Month

By Gulshan Harjee, M.D. Email By Gulshan Harjee, M.D.
October 2014
October is Breast Cancer Month

Despite the investment of the Federal Government and nonprofits in free screenings, almost half the eligible people do not take advantage of these great opportunities.

Most women make the excuse, “I have no family history of breast cancer and I feel fine, so I do not need a mammogram.” Wrong!! Only 10% of women diagnosed with breast cancer can recall a family history of breast cancer; the others are the first to meet with it—family history has to start somewhere.

How can one stay vigilant and take responsibility?

1. Weight loss, weight loss, and weight loss. High body weight is a huge risk factor of cancer. Obesity leads to high estrogen and leptin levels which encourage cancer cell growth. Obese people also have an abnormal carbohydrate metabolism; this insulin resistance promotes cancer. Cutting out deep fried foods, sugars, and high glycemic index carbohydrates and incorporating exercise is a ticket to achieving ideal body weight. Please do not allow your children to become obese, as this is a poor start for their long term health. Get involved with their schools and promote healthy lunches with eggs, salads, yogurts, and baked meats. Encourage them to drink water and snack on apples, peaches, and plums, and drift them away from sugary sodas and fruit juices. It is saddening to watch diabetics devouring ice creams and mithai—it looks like an act of suicide. Antioxidants are found in fresh fruits and vegetables; vitamins C, E, and B-complex as well as minerals have been proven effective in prevention of breast cancer. I was shocked to see waffles and syrupy pancakes at a school breakfast cafeteria recently. Speak up! You pay taxes, you have a voice—don‘t let bad food kill you and your children! Be good role models—obese parents have obese children.

2. Exercise boosts immunity. Your Doctor does not want to hear “I exercise twice a week.” That will make a good doctor very mad. A good workout at least five days a week will boost your immunity and fight high levels of insulin and estrogen. Even with a diagnosis of cancer, exercise will improve your chance of beating it. Exercise increases oxygen in the body and makes your bones, muscles, heart, and lungs strong. It improves memory and drops blood pressure and cholesterol, and improves diabetes control. Learn lymph massage.

3. Quit smoking and alcohol. Even small amounts can cause organ and cell damage. Cigarette smoke not only causes lung cancer, but cancers of the ear, nose, and throat, the GI system, and bladder and kidney cancers, increases chronic lung disease and heart disease, and secondary smoke can lead to these same risks. Cigars are just as cancer causing. Cigarettes cause about one of every five deaths in the United States each year, more than 480,000 deaths annually, including deaths from secondhand smoke. Women who smoke or are constantly exposed to secondhand smoke are up to 40% more likely to develop breast cancer. Very small amounts of red wine may have some medicinal value but it may not be worth it. Alcohol can cause esophageal, stomach, liver, and pancreatic cancers.

4. Protein is important, but be careful about meat. Processed and red meats can be a large cancer risk. The red coloring used to color and process lunch meats is a highly cancer-provoking agent and must be avoided at all costs. Better choices are fish and chicken. Be careful with BBQs: when meats are cooked, they produce carcinogenic compounds—the higher the temperature, the more carcinogen, so do not char meats. Eat more beans, moongs, daals, and quinoa. Use chana (chickpea) flour rather than wheat flour: the former has double the amount of protein than whole-wheat flour and six times more than all-purpose flour; it has seven times more folate than whole-wheat flour and is better digested. Eggs are also great sources of protein, as are goat cheese and Greek yogurt.

The Affordable Care Act has great coverage for cancer screening, as does your Medicare plan. All mammograms and chest x-rays for smokers for age-eligible individuals should be covered with a negotiated deductible. Be sure to ask your doctor for more information.

[Gulshan Harjee, M.D., is a board certified internist in private practice with an emphasis on prevention. Please email your health and medical questions for consideration in this column to: gharjee@comcast.net. The material in this column is of a general nature, and must not be construed as specific medical advice. This column rotates monthly along with the Fitness Lifestyle column by Aarti Patel.]

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