Breast Cancer Awareness and What You Can Do

by Dr. Melissa Carr, Dr. TCM

October 18th, 2018

Cancer. It’s a terrifying word. And breast cancer is the most common type of invasive cancer for women. British Columbia is now the first province to provide women and their doctors information about their breast density after a mammogram screening. You may be wondering, “Why does my breast density matter and what does it mean if I have dense breasts?” I’ll get to that, but first let’s discuss breast cancer, in general.

One in Eight Women

With approximately one in eight women being diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, it is the second most common cause of cancer death in women—after lung cancer. The good news is, survival rates have improved dramatically since the late 1980s. Men can also get breast cancer, but it is much less common, making up less than one percent of all breast cancer diagnoses.

Part of the reason for an increasing number of breast cancer survivors is that we are finding and assessing breast lumps earlier on in the disease.

What Do I Look For?

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, see your doctor so you can be assessed.

  • Feeling a lump or thickened tissue in your breast or armpit.
  • Pain in the armpit or breast that does not change with your menstrual cycle.
  • A change in shape or size of your breast not related to your menstrual cycle or pregnancy.
  • The skin of the breast looks like the skin of an orange, i.e. pitting, dimpling, or change in colour.
  • Changes in the appearance of the nipple, like a rash or scaling skin or it appears sunken or inverted.
  • Discharge from the nipple.

It may be scary to find these changes, but don’t put off seeing your health professional about it because early detection improves outcomes.

While the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care does not recommend breast self-examinations for women do not have a higher risk of breast cancer and who are aged 40 to 74 because they state that these self-examinations do not save women’s lives and can lead to unneeded tests, it is very helpful for a woman to know how her breasts normally look and feel so she can more easily notice changes. And for women who are at higher risk, self-exams can be valuable.

Higher Risks

So, how do you know if you are one of those higher risk individuals? Note that not all the risks are equal in their effect, but here are some of the factors that can be at play.

  • Age: As we age, our risk increases.
  • History: A history of breast cancer increases our likelihood of having it again, as do some types of non-cancerous (benign) breast lumps, like atypical ductal hyperplasia(ADH) or lobular carcinoma in situ(LCIS).
  • Genetics: Risk increases for those who have close relatives who’ve had breast cancer, and for women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. Women of Ashkenazi Jewish decent are more likely to carry these BRCA genes.
  • Reproductive history: Estrogen exposure can increase breast cancer risk. Women who started their periods early or ended them later in life have more exposure, as do women who have pregnancies later in life or no pregnancies. Prolonged use of birth control pills or certain hormone replacement pills also have increased estrogen exposure.
  • Dense breasts.
  • Other: Alcohol consumption, obesity, and physical inactivity are also associated with higher risk.
  • Possible risks: Smoking and second-hand smoke, higher birth weight, and night shift work may also raise the risk, but these factors are less clear.

Dense Breasts

Breasts are composed of fat, connective tissue, milk ducts, and glands. When there is more connective tissue, glands, and ducts than fatty tissue, the breasts are termed dense, and this is a trait that is inherited. Breast density has been shown to decline with age but increase with hormone therapy.

A JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Oncology research paper found that breast density is the strongest risk factor for breast cancer in both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women.

The increased risk appears to be two-fold. One is that dense breasts cause a higher risk of producing cancerous cells. Researchers think that it’s from the presence of more cells in the dense tissue, as well as more interaction between the cells that line the mammary ducts and the surrounding tissue. The second cause is that dense breast tissue and cancer both show up as white on standard mammograms, so it’s hard for radiologists to find cancerous tissue. It simply doesn’t show up as easily because there is less contrast.

Dense breasts may need more follow up and alternate mammograms, such as 3-D mammograms, or ultrasounds to show tumours.

Nineteen U.S. states already require women to be told if they have dense breasts, but it is not yet clear what you are supposed to do if you are told you have dense breasts. One of the study’s co-authors states, “Not everybody with dense breasts is going to get cancer. There are people with dense breasts that are not at high risk.”

Prevention for All

Certain risk factors are out of your control—age, family medical history, breast density, and genetics. But you can take the reins in other aspects of your health.

As with most disease prevention and health optimization, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight, eat nutritious foods, limit or avoid alcohol, exercise regularly, and don’t smoke. If you fit the high risk profile (if you know your breast density, you can take this risk calculator quiz, do monthly breast self-exams, have your doctor examine you yearly, and get breast assessments done.

Foods and supplements that are high in anti-oxidants can help to lower the risk of many kinds of cancers, as can supporting a healthy immune system.

Mikei Red ReishiJapanese red reishi mushrooms have a wide range of health benefits including supporting a balanced immune system, providing adrenal support as an adaptogenic, and they have been shown to help suppress tumour growth. Reishi contains more than 400 known compounds, with the best-known ones being triterpenes and polysaccharides, both of which have shown anticancer effects.

When it comes to something like cancer prevention, it’s comforting to know that there are some things we can do to help protect ourselves.

Dr. Melissa Carr is a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology. In practice since 2001, Dr. Carr has a passion for sharing health information. She has been a nutrition instructor and a health consultant, lecturer, and writer for 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper, Fraser Health Authority, UBC, and the David Suzuki Foundation, amongst others.


> Back to Health Articles

All information on this site is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Information presented here is not intended to substitute the advice provided to you by your physician or healthcare practitioner. You should not use any information contained in our site to self-diagnose or personally treat any medical condition or disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical condition, you are urged to contact your healthcare practitioner.

Taking natural health supplements should be a decision made by the individual themselves and based on personal research. It is recommended for all individuals to consult their healthcare practitioner prior to starting any new medication. Individuals should not discontinue current medication without first consulting their doctor.

Privacy Policy

This Privacy Policy describes how your personal information is collected, used, and shared when you visit or make a purchase from our websites which includes,,, and (the “Sites”).


When you visit the Sites, we automatically collect certain information about your device, including information about your web browser, IP address, time zone, and some of the cookies that are installed on your device. Additionally, as you browse the Sites, we collect information about the individual web pages or products that you view, what websites or search terms referred you to the Sites, and information about how you interact with the Sites. We refer to this automatically-collected information as “Device Information.”

We collect Device Information using the following technologies:

Additionally, when you make a purchase or attempt to make a purchase through the Sites, we collect certain information from you, including your name, billing address, shipping address, payment information (including credit card numbers, expiration date), email address, and phone number. At your discretion, we may also be collecting your birthdate and title information. We refer to this information as “Order Information.”

When we talk about “Personal Information” in this Privacy Policy, we are talking both about Device Information and Order Information.


We use the Order Information that we collect generally to fulfill any orders placed through the Sites (including processing your payment information, arranging for shipping, and providing you with invoices and/or order confirmations). Additionally, we use this Order Information to:

We use the Device Information that we collect to help us screen for potential risk and fraud (in particular, your IP address), and more generally to improve and optimize our Sites (for example, by generating analytics about how our customers browse and interact with the Sites, and to assess the success of our marketing and advertising campaigns). We may also use the Device Information for remarketing and retargeting purposes to provide you with targeted advertisements and offers we believe may be of interest to you.


We share your Personal Information with third parties to help us use your Personal Information, as described above. For example, we use an outside shipping company to ship orders, and a credit card processing company to bill users for purchases. We also use Google Analytics to help us understand how our customers use the Sites. You can read more about how Google uses your Personal Information here: You can also opt-out of Google Analytics here:

Finally, we may also share your Personal Information to comply with applicable laws and regulations, to respond to a subpoena, search warrant or other lawful request for information we receive, or to otherwise protect our rights.


As described above, we use your Personal Information to provide you with targeted advertisements or marketing communications we believe may be of interest to you.

You can opt out of targeted advertising by:

Additionally, you can also visit NAI’s opt-out page


Please note that we do not alter our Sites’ data collection and use practices when we see a Do Not Track signal from your browser.


The Sites contain links to other websites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the content or privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of any other site that collects personally identifiable information.


If you are a European resident, you have the right to access personal information we hold about you and to ask that your personal information be corrected, updated, or deleted. If you would like to exercise this right, please contact us through the contact information below.

Additionally, if you are a European resident, we note that we are processing your information in order to fulfill contracts we might have with you (for example if you make an order through the Sites), or otherwise to pursue our legitimate business interests listed above. Additionally, please note that your information will be transferred outside of Europe, including to Canada and the United States.


From time-to-time, the Sites may request information via surveys, contests, or offers. Participation in these surveys, contests, and offers is completely voluntary and you may choose whether or not to participate and therefore disclose this information. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and shipping address), and demographic information (such as postal code, age level, gender). Contact information will be used to notify the winners, award prizes, or redeem offers. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the use and satisfaction of the Sites and the products offered on the Sites.


When you place an order through the Sites, we will maintain your Order Information for our records unless and until you ask us to delete this information.


We may update this privacy policy from time to time in order to reflect, for example, changes to our practices or for other operational, legal or regulatory reasons. This policy was last updated on October 27th, 2019.


For more information about our privacy practices, if you have questions, or if you would like to make a complaint, please contact us by e-mail at or by mail using the address provided below:

Nikkei (Canada) Marketing Limited Unit 170 - 12868 Clarke Place, Richmond, BC, V6V 2H1, Canada