Breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second common cause of death in women in North America. It makes up approximately one-third of new cancers diagnosed presently.

I have spent over 17 years of my career in cancer research, both integrative and conventional medicine, so I want to give a short update on the opportunities for early diagnosis and prevention of this devastating disease affecting so many families today.

The vast majority of recent studies show the harms and lack of effectiveness of the much-touted mammograms. First, it was demonstrated that mammograms have no impact on mortality rates, while the risk of false positives is very high, thus leading to unnecessary interventions, biopsies and much anguish. The real numbers show one in 1,000 women (maybe even less) might be saved by a mammography, while 10 women might receive cancer therapy (surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – all with serious adverse events) without having any cancer. This is scary and very expensive.

In fact, some studies have shown a rate of false-positive results as high as 56 per cent after 10 mammograms.

But the greatest concern is the harm done by the ionizing radiation itself employed in a mammography. Not long ago the medical community advised screenings annually, or every other year after 45-50-years-old, which I thought to be reckless, given ionizing radiation is known to cause mutations of the genetic material and tumors, especially when repeated over many years.

Recently the recommendations have changed, acknowledging some women are actually harmed by routine and repeated mammograms. Of course, women who feel a lump need to get a mammogram or another test such as ultrasound.

Are there any safe, natural ways to prevent or fight breast cancer? You bet.

One of the easiest and best methods is to make sure you get enough vitamin D (which is naturally produced by our skin in the presence of sunlight). Clear and solid evidence demonstrates this powerful vitamin and hormone is a cancer prevention substance. Even more so, patients diagnosed with breast cancer who had a higher level of vitamin D had better chances of survival than patients with subliminal vitamin D levels.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of North Americans living in cold climates are deficient in vitamin D, and taking it orally is not as effective as the exposure to sun rays.

Nutrition and good rest, exercise and stress management also play an important role in cancer prevention.

Avoiding certain chemicals found in everyday products can reduce the risk of breast cancer as well. Examples of such frequent toxins are parabens in antiperspirants and many cosmetics, nitrosamines in smoked meats, pesticides in foods, halogenated organic solvents in dry cleaning or hair spray, and flame-retardants found in many mattresses today.

Eat a variety of plant-based foods such as colorful fruits, seeds, vegetables and legumes, if possible, organically grown, fresh and raw. Plants contain a multitude of specific substances (phytonutrients) with known antioxidant and anticancer properties. Whole plant or grain is generally better than taking man-made supplements.

Some of the best plants demonstrated to have anti-cancer properties are cabbage and its family of cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli), tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, oregano, apples, berries, red grapes, green tea, to mention just a few. Add naturally fermented foods to support a healthy gut and digestive function. It is important to avoid genetically engineered foods since they contain herbicides such as RoundUp (glyphosate), a known carcinogenic (induces cancerous cells and abnormal growth).

Get sufficient amounts of vitamin A (found in egg yolk, butter) and iodine (an essential trace element) found in seafood, kelp and iodized salt.

A healthy, normal body weight helps, too. Try to lose excessive body fat because fat produces the female hormone estrogen, which can fuel breast cancer when in excess. Hydrate very well, since water is necessary among others to detoxify the body and maintain normal function of all cells. Avoid alcohol and smoking.

Regular self-examinations are highly recommended.