The Connection Between Inflammation and Breast Cancer

According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, by the end of 2015, there will be 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer among women and 2,350 new cases of invasive breast cancer among men.  Although breast cancer is not considered preventable, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), you can reduce your risk by:
  • Limiting alcohol intake – Drinking alcohol raises the risk of breast cancer. The ACS reports that women who drink 1 alcoholic beverage a day slightly increase their risk; whereas, women consuming between 2 and 5 drinks daily have 1½ times greater risk compared to women who do not drink.
  • Controlling weight – Being overweight after menopause may raise the risk of breast cancer. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, liver, adrenal glands and fat tissue. While estrogen has a handful of functions beyond maintaining the female reproductive system, experts believe if estrogen is circulating in a woman’s body after menopause, it can raise the risk of breast cancer. And having a higher percentage of body fat can extend the exposure to estrogen.
  • Engaging in physical activity – Exercising regularly seems to lower the risk of breast cancer. The ACS suggests that walking briskly for a couple of hours each week can reduce the risk of breast cancer by 18 percent. Further, a new study published in JAMA Oncology suggested that working out for five hours per week lowered the risk even further, as the additional exercise burned more fat. 
  • Avoiding tobacco smoke – Smoking on a long-term basis appears to raise the risk of breast cancer. Currently, studies go back and forth regarding exposure to second-hand smoke and breast cancer risk.
Accordingly, a growing number of studies support that chronic inflammation has ties to breast cancer and that working with your doctor to help prevent and control chronic inflammation may help lower your risk. 

Inflammation
Inflammation is an immune system response to an irritant. As soon as you prick your finger, come in contact with an allergen or catch a cold, your immune system activates, sending an army of white blood cells to fight off “foreign invaders” like bacteria and viruses. Even injuries such as a sprained ankle, tennis elbow and tendonitis cause inflammation, as white blood cells flood injured areas to remove bacteria and dead cellular debris. Sometimes, inflammation is noticeable (redness and swelling that appear in an injured area); this is referred to as acute inflammation. Chronic inflammation, however, occurs on a deeper, more internal level and is usually invisible. This can mask that underlying, potentially dangerous health issues like heart disease, autoimmune disorders (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome) or cancer may be brewing.

Chronic Inflammation and Cancer
For decades, cancer experts suspected a link between chronic inflammation and cancer but were not able to confirm it until a few years ago. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Schools of Health Sciences reported that inflammation activates MUC1, a protein molecule that triggers tumor progression. Additionally, investigators at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center found that inflammation causes a rise in microR-155, a molecule that lowers proteins that help repair DNA. This can increase spontaneous gene mutations, raising the risk of cancer. Further, scientists at Florida Atlantic University observed that inflammation elevates CHI3L1, a cancer biomarker that spurs the growth of cancer cells.  

Chronic Inflammation and Breast Cancer
Researchers have also been able to tie inflammation specifically to breast cancer development, metastasis (spreading), recurrence and lower survival rates.

A manuscript published in the American Society of Clinical Oncology Educational Book suggested that obesity creates multiple pathways of chronic inflammation throughout the body and in the breasts. Excess body weight enlarges fat cells, spurring inflammation. Obesity also instigates insulin resistance, a condition in which cells do not respond properly to insulin, causing the body to produce more insulin in order to control blood sugar levels. However, insulin is an inflammatory agent that can result in abdominal weight gain, creating a snowball effect of inflammation and enlarged fat cells. And since fat cells produce estrogen, obesity and insulin resistance can result in an overproduction of estrogen, raising the risk of breast cancer.       

Biomedical engineers from Cornell University believe certain protein molecules (i.e., cytokines) and inflammation can cause breast cancer to metastasize. Cytokines send signals to cells, affecting cellular communication and behavior. According to engineers, the pro-inflammatory cytokines, IL-6 and TNF-alpha, activate a mechanism that stimulates breast cancer cells to move through blood vessels and adhere to their surfaces, eventually penetrating the blood vessels and contributing to metastasis.

Lastly, results from a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that measuring the levels of the proteins serum amyloid A (SAA) and C-reactive protein (CRP) can help gauge low-grade chronic inflammation and predict breast cancer recurrence and survival. SAA and CRP rise in response to a tissue injury or other cause of inflammation and when elevated, raise the risk of breast cancer recurrence and lower overall survival rates.
  
Controlling Chronic Inflammation
According to WebMD, what you eat can help you prevent and/or control chronic inflammation. For instance, adding these foods to your diet can aid in offsetting the damage caused by tobacco smoke, environmental pollution and UV rays.
  • Various fruits and vegetables (berries, dark green leafy vegetables, oranges and tomatoes)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (olive oil, nuts/seeds and fish)
  • Whole grains (amaranth, barley, buckwheat and brown rice)
  • Spices (ginger, turmeric and cinnamon)
Limit your intake of these foods, as they seem to have a pro-inflammatory effect on the body.
  • Saturated fats  (red meat, poultry with skin and full-fat dairy products) 
  • Trans fats (baked goods, many snack foods including cereal/granola/energy bars and some brands of instant boatmeal)
  • Refined and processed foods (white flour products, high sugar foods and gluten products)
  • Alcohol
  • Omega-6 fatty acids (many vegetable oils, condiments, like salad dressings, mayonnaise and mustard and roasted nuts)
According to Helayne Waldman from GreenMedInfo, other steps you can take that may help inflammation to a minimum include:
  • Managing blood sugar levels, as insulin, a hormone that is triggered to help control blood sugar causes inflammation in the body.
  • Getting between seven to eight hours of sleep each night, as a lack of sleep triggers the hormone cortisol, which also raises insulin.
  • Controlling stress because part of the body’s response to stress is the release of cortisol.
Continue reading for more tips that can help you control chronic inflammation »

No matter your gender, you can discuss your risk of breast cancer with your MDVIP-affiliated physician and work with him/her to help you prevent or control chronic inflammation. Your physician can also explain how to perform monthly breast self-examinations and help you stay current with other forms of early detection such as clinical examinations and mammograms. If you don’t have an MDVIP-affiliated doctor, click here to learn more about MDVIP and find a doctor near you.
3 Comments
joan
Nov 11th, 2015
Is there any truth to the possibility that a moderate to severe blow to the breast, or any other vulnerable body part - a blow that leaves a bruise but not a laceration, could begin a cancerous progression, emanating from that spot? I remember being instructed by family members "to vigorously rub a bruise as soon as it occurred to bring blood to that spot and prevent complications, i.e. cancer - although cancer was not really mentioned, just the need to get circulation to the bruise ASAP.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Nov 13th, 2015
Greeting Joan,

Thank you for inquiring about possible connections between injuries and cancer. Oncology experts do not support the idea that injuries and contusions (bruising) can cause cancer. With the exception of one study published in 2002 that reported that injury is a plausible cause of breast cancer, there is no research suggesting that contusions can be cancerous. To assist you with treating contusions at home, we’ve included this article from WebMD ­– http://www.webmd.com/first-aid/tc/bruises-and-blood-spots-under-the-skin-home-treatment.

In Good Health,
MDVIP
Diana
Oct 19th, 2015
I appreciate this information. It is good to know that there are ways to combat inflamation. But it is scary to think inflammation can lead to breast cancer, when it seems that even if you do all this you can't completely eliminate it. What about someone with arthritis/osteoarthritis in the knees or other joints? Will doing all these things help enough or would you need to take unsaid or other med. Then you have other issues to deal with.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Oct 20th, 2015
Greetings Diana,

Thank you for asking about inflammation and ways to help alleviate it. A study published in 2012 found that people with rheumatoid arthritis who were diagnosed with breast cancer struggled with a more aggressive form of breast cancer. However, there doesn’t seem to be studies linking osteoarthritis (OA) to breast cancer. One reason this could be is that OA is an inflammation of the joints due to wear and tear, as opposed to an inflammatory disease. We suggest that you discuss with your doctor which methods of preventing/controlling inflammation are most appropriate for you, including the value of taking NSAIDs.

In Good Health,
MDVIP


Jody
Oct 14th, 2015
Could inflammation.throughout my body Contributed to my diagnosis of Takayasua Arteritis or vasculitis . I had breast cancer 15 years ago
1 Reply
MDVIP
Oct 20th, 2015
Greetings Sandy,

Thank you for writing in to ask about your conditions. Experts can only speculate that Takayasu's arteritis is triggered by an autoimmune disease, virus or some other type of infection. Regardless of the cause, breast cancer seems to be reported only by a small percentage of people with Takayasu's arteritis. We suggest that you stay current with your specialists who are involved in managing your Takayasua arteritis and helping to keep your cancer in remission.

In Good Health,
MDVIP


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