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Covid: The Looming Breast Cancer Crisis

It’s coming. I can feel it in the hallways at work. I can see it in the numbers. These numbers haven’t hit the mainstream news, I guess because they lack the splash of the ticker tape stats declaring today’s “worldwide-winner” of COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 deaths. But believe me, SARS-CoV-2 will soon indirectly cause a spike in non-virus-related breast cancer illness and death.

You see, breast cancer screening and detection rates are waaay down, but that doesn’t mean the cancers don’t exist. No, they continue their silent modus operandi of “divide and multiply” just the same as prior to the pandemic (actually, 0.3 percent higher than last year[1]). Cancer doesn’t quarantine itself or shelter in place, and when it comes to your breast health, neither should you.

Alarmingly, at the same time that breast cancer screening has taken a dramatic nosedive, many a woman’s response to COVID-19 has been to escalate her risk factors for the disease: more alcohol; increased consumption of snacks, processed and comfort foods; weight gain; less exercise combined with sedentary days; elevated stress levels.

Below, I detail the solutions you must know about and what you can do today about a possibly undetected cancer that might really flourish in an amped up cellular environment stoked by the above risk factors. Unless we alter course quickly, the next several years will bring a spike in more advanced-stage cancers due to the delay in diagnosis coupled with women unintentionally embracing the very lifestyle choices that have been scientifically shown to elevate breast cancer risk.

A Quick Look at the Numbers

COVID-19 has impacted breast cancer screening by declining the following types of care:[2]

Average Weekly Decline

  • Breast Imaging: 61.7%
  • Breast Genetics Consults: 26.4%
  • Breast Surgery: 20.5%
  • Breast Cancer Diagnoses[3]: 51.8%

The halting of “elective” breast cancer screening due to the emergence of COVID‐19 has negatively affected screening, diagnosing, and treatment of breast cancer, as well as increased risk for high-risk patients due to lower genetic counseling and prophylactic surgery. If you are due for breast screening (mammogram, ultrasound, breast MRI, or clinical breast exam), the same simple rules we already know apply so that you can get through your screening appointment safely:

  • Wear a mask at all times
  • BYOP! (Bring Your Own Pen) for signing forms
  • Consider wearing disposable gloves
  • Use hand sanitizer after you sign in
  • Sit or stand 6 feet apart from others in the waiting room
  • Use hand sanitizer as you leave the facility
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds as soon as you can
  • That’s it, so schedule your appointment

Other Risk Factors Are Rising

Let’s break down how the pandemic has caused the 5 most important controllable breast cancer risk factors to skyrocket, and before they rise further, let’s understand what you can do to protect your breasts against each of them.

1. Alcohol

From Zoom happy hours to “wine o’clock”, people are grabbing a drink to take the edge off pandemic anxiety. Week after week, the average increase in alcohol sales has reached 477% (online purchases) and 27% (in-store purchases) above pre-COVID-19 volumes.[4]

Your Breasts Care Because

  • Alcohol does not destroy coronavirus as some believe, but it does weaken your immune system, increase estrogen levels (80%of breast cancers are fueled by estrogen) and interfere with your body’s ability to convert folate into its DNA-protective form, methylfolate. All of this contributes to alcohol being a risk factor for breast cancer. One drink a day elevates risk by 10%[5], two drinks a day 30%[6], three drinks a day 40% and up from there. Use the popular alcohol risk analyzer to calculate your personal risk based on age and frequency of alcohol consumption. Overall, the evidence suggests that there is “no safe limit” of alcohol to consume. The American Cancer Society advises that people who choose to drink limit their intake to no more than 2 per day for men and 1 a day for women.[7]

Your Solutions

  • Enjoy the Mocktail recipes from our Cancer-Kicking! Kitchen. I have been posting one monthly after it became clear that Covid would not go away soon. Pour them into your wine or martini glass instead of the real deal.
  • If you’re not a Mocktails kinda girl, supplement with Cosmo Companion. It’s affordable, and the only product of its kind. Cosmo Companion provides your cells with DNA protection via the bioactive form of methylfolate as well as 15 botanicals that support liver function, detoxification, alcohol metabolism and glucose stability to minimize the impact of the drink(s) you are having.

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2. Stress 

Financial difficulties, social isolation, uncertainty about the future, and increased parenting responsibilities (zoom school, anyone?) represent just a few of the seemingly endless COVID-19-related stressors.

Your Breasts Care Because

  • A meta-analysis of 300 studies confirms that stress alters immunity.[8]
  • The Life After Cancer Epidemiology study (LACE) followed over 2200 early stage breast cancer patients for 10.8 years. Those reporting low levels of support from friends and family and/or lack of religious or social participation were 58% more likely to have died during the study period than those with high levels of support.[9] You read that right, 58%!

Your Solutions

  • Connect with others, even if by Zoom or FaceTime and the like.
  • Make time to unwind. Do activities you enjoy.
  • Meditate daily. If you have never meditated or need a helping hand, try an app like Calm or Headspace.
  • Forgive those who hurt and upset you. Forgiveness improves both mental and physical health; it lessens anxiety, anger, and depression; reduces stress; relaxes facial muscles; and decreases cortisol levels and blood pressure.[10]
  • If you are short on time, take 5 seconds to inhale through your nose, and 8 seconds to exhale from your mouth. Set an hourly alarm to take three – deep – breaths.
  • If you find yourself moody, anxious or even depressed, or if you have had such issues in the past, learn about the incredible power of saffron, an ancient medicinal spice extracted from the beautiful crocus sativus flower. 15mg twice a day (no more, no less) of this completely natural supplement proves just as effective as prescription medication for mood swings and depression.
  • For those going through cancer diagnosis-related stress: Join the Breast Buddies program – a free online community with thousands of thrivers. Breast Buddies pairs newly diagnosed women stage-for stage, age-for-age, and treatment-for-treatment with those who have been there/done that for the purposes of friendship and support. So, while not everyone has a BFF – or a family they like – everyone can have a breast buddy!

3. Weight Gain

WebMD polled readers and found that 50% of women and 25% of men said they have gained weight during COVID-19.[11] Weight gain, or the “Quarantine 15”, can easily happen. Comfort food recipes and “stress baking” are all the rage. When working from home, you’ve got constant access to a kitchen or pantry filled with foods that spend “a moment on the lips and forever on the hips.” Boom, the COVID curves seem to appear overnight.

Your Breasts Care Because

  • Overweight and obese adult women have a 50 to 250% greater risk for postmenopausal breast cancer than normal weight women.[12]
  • In the United States, up to 50% of postmenopausal breast cancer deaths can be attributed to obesity.[13]
  • If you have already been diagnosed with cancer, gaining more than 5-10% of your initial weight – irrespective of baseline BMI (body mass index)—increases the risk of recurrence and reduces survival by up to 400%.[14]

Your Solutions

  • Calculate your Body Mass Index to find out if you’re too chubby, what your target weight should be, and receive more advice on weight loss.
  • Choose whole food plant-based eating (more on this later).
  • Limit or eliminate meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs.
  • Curb the consumption of saturated fat and refined, processed, or sugary foods.
  • Control portions.
  • Eat slower (satiety signals from your gut to your brain can take 20 minutes)
  • Change out of those yoga pants or sweats with the expandable waistline. You need to notice when your “adult clothes” stop fitting.

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4. Nutrition

Limited trips to the grocery store during Covid lead to less fresh fruits and vegetables and more stocking up on frozen meals and pantry-stable items that tend to be high calorie, high fat, sugary and worst of all, ultra-processed. All the extra hours at home encourage endless snacking, caloric comfort food meals, and “stress-baking.”

Your Breasts Care Because

There’s anti-cancer power in plants. Compounds in fruits, vegetables and legumes interfere with cancer cell signals, encourage cancer cell suicide (apoptosis), inhibit angiogenesis (the blood vessel growth all cancers require to survive), lower estrogen levels, and boost your immune system.

  • Just 26 grams of fiber a day can decrease breast cancer by 40%.[15]
  • An apple a day keeps breast cancer away by 24% (vs. those eating fewer apples).[16]
  • A study of 52,000 African American women showed a 41% drop in breast cancer for those eating 6 or more servings of cruciferous vegetables a week.[17]
  • A French study showed an astounding 75% drop in breast cancer with eleven to twelve weekly servings of fresh allium vegetables such as garlic and onions.[18]
  • The equivalent of half a button mushroom dropped breast cancer rates in Chinese women by 64% compared with age-matched “no mushroom” eaters.[19]

Your Solutions

  • Prioritize whole food plant-based eating: fruits, vegetables, 100% whole grains and legumes (lentils, beans, peas) while minimizing saturated fats and refined sugars found in meat and processed foods. Sign up for awesome tips and delicious plant-based recipes from our Cancer-Kicking! Kitchen.
  • Stock up on beans, peas, lentils, 100% whole grains (brown rice, wild rice, oats, quinoa, whole rye, whole barley, whole wheat pasta, popcorn), nuts and seeds, frozen fruits and vegetables.
  • If you already know your diet is sub-optimal, start supplementing with the Multi Must Have for women. It is 100% plant-based, contains bioactive & metabolism-ready B Vitamins and the correct active chelates and naturally soluble minerals that you are missing out on due to your nutrient-deficient diet.
  • Don’t bring chips, crackers, cookies, candies, pretzels, snack bars, ice cream and the like into your home, where it taunts you at eye level and within arm’s reach.
  • If you can afford it, use a home delivery grocery service or shop online from a market that delivers or prepares your bags so you can just zip in and out to pick them up.

5. Exercise

COVID-19 closures of parks, gyms, trails, fitness studios, and other public places have resulted in reduced opportunities for physical activity. Those working from home may find themselves sitting for extended periods.

Your Breasts Care Because

  • Being sedentary increases breast cancer by as much as 40% over those who work out at moderate levels for 3-4 hours a week.[20]
  • Walking briskly for a mere 11 minutes day drops breast cancer incidence by 18%.[21]
  • Even when obese, the combination of walking thirty minutes six days a week with consuming five or more servings of daily vegetables confers a 44% survival advantage over those who adhered to one or neither of these lifestyles.[22]
  • Exercise not only boosts the immune system (important for fending off both breast cancer and COVID-19), but it also can reduce stress, prevent weight gain, and improve sleep.

Your Solutions

  • Make a plan to move every day. Exercise with family, get outdoors, use online fitness resources, take a virtual class, hire a trainer to work with you remotely, or put a little dance into that dusting as you do calorie-burning chores.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines state that for the most overall health benefit, we should do 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate intensity aerobic activity (like power walking) or 150 minutes (2.5 hours, that’s 22 minutes a day) of vigorous super-sweaty activity each week.[23]
  • Set exercise goals, have a routine, and make fitness a decision (not a choice). Andy has always been a pro at it, so we wake our three 11 year-old sons every school morning at 6:30am, they roll over and ignore us, but we’re all finally out the door by 7:15am and we rotate what we do – always masked, at least right now: bike 15 miles on the beach bike path, run 5 miles, or hike a 3 mile mountain trail. That way, we actively start the day on a positive note. Daily exercise box, checked!

Two Invitations

We barely just scratched the surface with this post. I invite you to join me for my upcoming Virtual Cancer-Kicking! Summit (available for download in April 2021) or my live 2-day oceanfront retreat in Southern California on October 16-17, 2021. Both summits come packed with evidence-based advice and transformative start-right-now power. I deep dive into all aspects of your entire life to dramatically improve your health.

And, to keep the risk factors we discussed in this post in check, join me, James Cameron, Jon Stewart, Alec Baldwin, Ted Danson, Tig Notaro and other notable athletes, physicians, dietitians and nurses for our Let’s Beat Breast Cancer campaign, spearheaded by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. We encourage women to take a pledge to follow a four-pronged approach to breast cancer risk reduction. You will receive a free e-cookbook, chances to win giveaway swag (including a Vitamix and the popular Multi Must Have women’s vitamin from our friends at Pink Lotus Elements) and you will get weekly newsletters with practical advice on how to integrate the above steps into your daily life.

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Stay Connected

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Vimeo

My Conclusion

If not now, then when will you take your health (and the health of those you love) into your own hands?

We could thank COVID-19, I suppose, for turning a bright spotlight onto our vulnerabilities. Let’s acknowledge where we can improve our choices. Let’s embrace the opportunity to maximize health! The changes I’ve suggested here don’t just serve your breasts well. They also yield lower cholesterol, better triglycerides, perfect blood pressure, fewer heart attacks, a leaner body, less diabetes, painless joints, more energy, better sleep, a happier mood, a sharper mind, less dementia, smoother skin, regular bowel movements, cleaner lungs, a healthier planet, and a longer life. If you practice what I teach in my posts and at my Cancer-Kicking! Summit, you will radically reduce your risk of many of the illnesses that ultimately lead to chronic and life-threatening diseases. You’ll feel a boost of happiness and satisfaction. You’ll implement your goals with ease – and never look back.

As always, I wish you the breast of health!

Questions? Leave me a comment below or join our Covid & Breast Cancer discussion group right here on Power Up to take the conversation further. Hopefully this information has helped you, both during the pandemic and eventually afterwards.

References

  1. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures-2019-2020.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7436610/
  3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2768946
  4. https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/article/2020/rebalancing-the-covid-19-effect-on-alcohol-sales/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11590087/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12439712/
  7. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/alcohol-use-and-cancer.html
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361287/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23143212/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11340919/; https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0887044042000196674
  11. https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200521/quarantine-weight-gain-not-a-joking-matter
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12897329/
  13. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1015288615472
  14. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23214340?seq=1
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2395322/
  16. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7669778_Does_an_apple_a_day_keep_the_oncologist_away
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20937636/
  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9928867/
  19. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ijc.24047
  20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11427781/
  21. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/197257
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2274898/
  23. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/physical-activity-and-your-heart
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