Can Breast Cancer Really Be "Prevented?"

I received this email yesterday. The writer makes some interesting points. Below, is the email, and my response. (To protect the author's privacy, I edited out names and other information that is personal.) Who is right? Or, are we both right?

Dear Rick,

Saw you yesterday at breakfast, and had hoped for a chance to speak with you, but as soon as it seemed you finished your conversation, you were gone.  When you spoke with me in February,  I did get up at my Church and tell everyone about your wonderful foundation. I am constantly amazed by people like you who take a tragedy in their lives and turn it into some serious good. Way to go! You are what elevates the human race.

In reading your brochure cover-to-cover, I wanted to discuss a few things with you that I think might help your efforts. 

My first job after graduating from college in 1984 was at the breast clinic at the college Hospital. Breast cancer has been on my radar in a serious way for at least 30 years, so I have a fair amount of knowledge about it. 

There are two things that I think should be adjusted in your brochure to make it more effective. 

I hope you don’t mind me pointing them out, I just want the best for your foundation.

The first is that mammograms do not actually prevent breast cancer. 

They are crucial in fighting breast cancer because they can result in early detection of breast cancer.

Which brings me to the second issue that I think needs clarification. 

Today, with early detection, breast cancer is a very treatable disease. Chemo and radiation can, in fact, cure a person if the cancer is caught early enough. That makes early detection, using tools like mammograms, so essential. And yes, I agree with your dear Becky that if I had a late stage cancer, I would not go the “slash and burn” route, but would live out my last days in the very best way possible. I have a friend who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer 1.5 years ago. Because of a 3-D mammogram, they caught it extremely early. And I know we can’t call her “cured” until we hit the five-year mark, but her prognosis is very good. She had surgery and radiation and is taking hormone inhibitors, and there are currently no signs of cancer in her body. 

I wish to God there were some way of preventing breast cancer, but so far, all attempts have come up lacking. But there is no question that early detection saves lives because when it’s caught early, it’s usually very treatable.

Wishing you all the best with your amazing work,  

Here is my response:

Hey J, thanks for your message!

Yes, I understand that mammograms do not “prevent” breast cancer and I have been careful not to state that. While they are not perfect, they are still the best detection, other than self-examination, I suppose.

It’s great that you have questioned my words in the brochure. I am in a family of doctors and we have had lively debates on this subject.

They told Becky she was “irresponsible” for not taking chemo, until she lived over three years longer than her doctor-siblings ever thought possible. Today, they have no explanation for how the happened and are now studying nutrition.

I have come to accept the scowls on the faces of oncologists when I talk ‘prevention through nutrition.’ Most know little about the subject and are only interested in “treating” breast cancer.

We may differ a bit on the word “prevention.”  While I know it is impossible to prevent it in some women, it is possible in others.

For example, studies have shown that excessive consumption of Diet Coke can cause breast cancer in some women. So, if these women do not drink Diet Coke, did they not “prevent” it in their bodies as a result? (They may get it some other way, but they did not as a result of drinking Diet Coke.) 

Conversely, if they heavily consumed Diet Coke, as Becky did, and they get breast cancer, could it not have been prevented had they never drank Diet Coke? Maybe.

It may be semantics, but I do believe that we can “prevent” it if we do not put into our bodies that which can cause it.

Much like lung cancer. The smoker gets lung cancer as a result, and yet had he never smoked, he would never had it. Granted, some get lung cancer without smoking, but is rare and the smoker’s odds are thousands of times greater. So, never smoke and “prevent” lung cancer?

Again, I think is semantics. 

I agree, let’s talk about early detection, (which is why I have given away so many Mammograms) but, let’s also talk about taking care of the body. Garbage in, garbage out, and maybe “preventable” breast cancer as a result.

Part of my mission is to encourage women to take care of their bodies by not drinking Diet Coke, or eating dangerous foods, etc, and yet still heavily monitoring their body for any warning signs.

I am also involved with seminars all over the country that teach men about the disease. Had I been an expert in breast cancer 5 years ago, I would have taken Becky for a checkup (because I would have known the warning signs) as she could not muster the courage to go on her own. And...there lies my guilt in not being able to save her.

Thanks again for your kind message and your passion as well.