The prevention of breast cancer – the answer is in our bodies

by Rebecca Briant, Receptionist and Politics Student, London UK

Recently I undertook a research project at Bath University, looking at the effect epigenetics can have on the formation of breast cancer. What I found was really amazing, and very relevant given the current trends of breast cancer worldwide.

Breast cancer is now so common it is hard to find someone who is untouched by the disease either directly or indirectly through friends and family. It has become the enemy within and women across the board are now encouraged to check their breasts for any sign of breast disease. October has become synonymous with pink ribbons and raising money for breast cancer research.

I have seen so much in the news and in general about the few options available for women with breast cancer when it comes to treatment and prevention. The most common option for treatment, and now also for prevention, is the removal of the breasts, and sometimes the ovaries too, even before any cancer is diagnosed, if the women are deemed to be at high risk of developing the disease.

Scientists have isolated the ‘breast cancer gene’ and can give genetic counselling to women with this gene as to what their options are. However, what I have found interesting is that the research or information I talk about below is seemingly not taken into consideration, let alone placed equally alongside all other treatments and preventatives.

As taught in many high school biology classes, every person has DNA (Deoxy-ribo Nucleic Acid), which is like a genetic code that contains all the instructions needed to build everything that makes up the body, and make it function. However, what is not often taught is that your DNA on its own is only part of the story of how you come to exist and what happens to you during life.

Think of your DNA as a really, really long strand of string in our bodies, that is wrapped around little proteins called Histones. Your DNA wraps around a Histone, and then chemical tags can bind to these Histones. It is this second layer of structure (the chemical tags and the wrapping around the protein) that is called the Epigenome. It is the Epigenome that shapes the structure of your DNA.

The proteins help to organize the DNA because they have tails that can become covered with chemical tags and affect the DNA interaction. Some sections of DNA become tightly wrapped up, making the genes in that section inactive or unreadable. However, the proteins can also relax genes, making them active and easily accessible. So in effect, although your DNA code remains the same for life, your epigenetics are flexible, and whether a gene is wrapped up tightly and difficult to read, or is relaxed and easily accessible, is in reaction to your environment and your lifestyle factors, things like stress or diet.1

 DNA structure

So how does this relate to cancer? Well, cancer develops when a cell becomes abnormal and begins to grow out of control. Out of control growth occurs by both turning off the genes coding for proteins that slow cell growth and turning on genes coding for proteins that speed up cell growth. Epigenetic events can affect many of the stages in tumour development; for example some of our lifestyle choices over time could lead to the section of gene that codes for slowing cell growth to be wrapped up tightly, while allowing the gene that codes for the speeding up of growth to be relaxed and readable, causing the increased chance of a formation of a cancerous tumour.

For my research project I focused on breast cancer, as it is the most common cancer among women in the United States, after skin cancer. It was estimated by Cancer Research UK that there were around 55,200 new cases of invasive breast cancer in the UK in 2014, that’s 150 cases diagnosed every day. And Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 1.68 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, with around 11,400 breast cancer deaths in the UK in 2014.2

The epigenetic alterations that occur are not well understood, other than that they are key contributors to breast tumour formation. Prevention, treatments and diagnostics are being developed by some researchers to target epigenetic changes leading to breast cancer.3

One such researcher is Mina Bissell, who has shown that cancer is not only caused by cancer cells and out of control growth, but by an interaction between cancer cells and their surrounding cellular microenvironment.

Her talk on TEDExperiments that point to a new understanding of cancer’ is fascinating and she asks the same questions I used to try and get my biology teachers to answer all the time – how, when every human starts off as one single cell, a fertilised egg, do the cells in your nose know to become a nose, and your elbow cells to be your elbow? And why do you not wake up one day with a foot for a hand? The cells in your hand contain the same information, and therefore the same potential to be a foot, as your foot does. And yet it doesn’t happen. And so, the same question can be asked of cancer. Can we really say that one day, a single cell suddenly ups and decides its DNA is going to mutate, and it’s going to become cancer?

These questions led her to find that it is not a random event, but that all cells, including cancer, get their instructions from the context or the environment that surrounds them. She works with breast cancer, and so uses the example of a mammary gland (the gland in a woman’s breast that produces milk) to explain how this works.

They took just a tiny bit of a mammary gland, called an ‘Acinus’, where milk is created (shown in the picture below) and they asked, how it was that those cells formed that structure. It was believed up until this work, that the yellow cells around the red and blue ones in the picture were simply there to give the gland its structure. However, what they found when they took these cells out of the natural environment of the breast, and placed them in a dish, was that within a few days they forgot what they were, lost shape and stopped producing milk.

breast acinus

So what is the significance of this? What it shows is that environment and context overrides, and somehow signals to the cell to do different things. But the question became: How?

Mina Bissell thought that maybe the structural cells people always thought were only there for shape, actually contained information and signalled to the nucleus or ‘brain’ of the cell what to do.

She and her co-workers took cellular material containing the extracellular matrix (ECM) that surrounds breast cells, and put the cells which had forgotten what they were into it. In a few days, the cells had re-organised into fully functioning glands that produced milk, demonstrating once again it is the context the cell finds itself in that determines what it will do.

But it’s what she did next that was really incredible. She formed the hypothesis that if context is the most dominant thing, then a cancer cell restored to normal context should revert back to a normal non-cancerous cell.

And so they tested it – they placed a malignant out of control breast cancer cell into a normal extracellular matrix context, and it reverted back to being a normal, functioning breast cell.

She has given us a different way of viewing cancer – in her words, a more hopeful one – one where it is not a game of the genetic lottery, or one where you one day randomly wake up with cancer, but a view where cancer is the result of a context or environment that is signalling a normal healthy cell to become cancer. What her studies have shown is that the 70 trillion cells in our bodies are constantly communicating to the extracellular matrix, which is communicating back to the nucleus of the cell, keeping and restoring balance.

Mina Bissell has said herself that arrogance kills curiosity and passion, she doesn’t understand everything and that there is far more to be discovered4 and I agree. I think that we need to start matching up different research and findings to produce a larger understanding of what is at play in the body when cancer forms. What epigenetics offers us is that the way we live and the environment we live in, can literally affect the way our DNA is read and expressed. What Mina’s research offers us is an understanding that cancer is a product of its environment, not a random genetic mutation. If we put those two pieces of evidence together, it is possible to consider that the way we live, or the environment we live in, may affect the environment inside the body, and that this might cause it to stop signalling cells to be healthy, and instead signal them to become cancer.

The cure for cancer is not a wonder drug or magic pill, but perhaps will be found in the very body we often fight against. By restoring our internal and external environment to one that is healthy and harmonious, and living in a way where the environment does not stray so far from being so, we can, in effect, play a part in our present and our future wellbeing.

Could we possibly consider that our bodies are like one little cell in the environment that is life – and that our life gives us signals, that we can choose to respond or react to, either making our environment a healthy and harmonious one, or one that effectively ‘gives us cancer’? Could it be that the interaction in our environment on a large scale – the stress we are under, the diet we eat, how we react in situations etc., has an effect on our smaller internal environments, that in turn signal to our cells, either to be healthy or to be cancerous?

Unfortunately, this will not make drug companies millions, nor will it make anyone famous for finding a cure, and most radically, it will ask people to put their health before their ability to do as they like with their bodies, asking them to take responsibility for the scientifically confirmed effect our lifestyle has on our bodies. It is for this reason perhaps, that Mina Bissell’s research is not yet front page news, and that no one is connecting up the dots to what appears to be a very simple conclusion, that perhaps the key to understanding cancer and possibly preventing and/or healing it will be found in the way we live.

References:

  1. University of Utah. (2014). Epigenetics at a glance and gene control. Available: http://learn.genetics.utah.ed/content/epigeneticsLast accessed 23/11/16.
  1. Cancer Research UK (2016) Breast Cancer Statistics. Available: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/breast-cancer#DIKlwm8WjE4QgdDp.99 Last accessed: 23/11/16
  1. Dworhin A et al. (2009). Epigenetic alteration in the breast. Seminars in cancer biology. 19 (3), p165-171.
  2. Mina Bissell. (2012). Experiments that point to a new understanding of cancer. Available: https://www.ted.com/talks/mina_bissell_experiments_that_point_to_a_new_understanding_of_cancer?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread Last accessed 23/11/16.

 

Read more:

1) Lifestyle choices and breast cancer prevention  

2) Breast cancer: Knowing what I know now, I would definitely do things differently. 

3) Healing breast cancer  

616 thoughts on “The prevention of breast cancer – the answer is in our bodies

  1. “The cure for cancer is not a wonder drug or magic pill, but perhaps will be found in the very body we often fight against. By restoring our internal and external environment to one that is healthy and harmonious, and living in a way where the environment does not stray so far from being so, we can, in effect, play a part in our present and our future wellbeing.” It so obvious that fighting our own body year in year out would have to have a serious health ramification. I am so aware that i need to be more switched on with what supports my body in truth. Ignoring that always catches up with me, in both small and bigger implications.

    1. Yes. And when I acknowledge the fact that the way I live has an impact on my health and well-being (and therefore on others and a bigger picture if we take into account how overstretched our health care system is), ‘taking responsibility’ becomes a very simple, practical and purposeful opportunity.

  2. I am fascinated by Mina Bissell’s research, I notice that it has escaped mainstream press, yet we say we want to find a cure for cancer and ignore that revelation from her research into the way the body communicates. Very interesting indeed.

  3. Yes Felicity wanting to avoid research that supports the biggest source of communication (the body) is crazy when you think about it, but is so evidently the attitude taken when we are choosing to sit in the comfort of irresponsibility in true health care.

  4. This is a front page article. The body knows harmony to its bones (pun intended) and works hard to restore us to harmony.

  5. What is so fascinating about the difference between some genes and epigenetics is its flexibility. This would seem to provide a much wider part of the picture in that our coding is not all fixed rather dynamic. Our choices and lifestyle can therefore influence that return to a harmonious balance in our body or movement towards disharmony and perhaps illness and disease.

  6. So beautifully presented, “The cure for cancer is not a wonder drug or magic pill, but perhaps will be found in the very body we often fight against. By restoring our internal and external environment to one that is healthy and harmonious, and living in a way where the environment does not stray so far from being so, we can, in effect, play a part in our present and our future wellbeing.” At the end of the day we are all responsible for our health and wellbeing and a livingness that supports harmony in our bodies.

  7. The epigenetic story is not a new one, rather it is not popular – it is much easier to push for a pill or magic serum cure than it is to explain to people that it will be the way that they live that can affect their health. 

    1. Could this be because we all resist taking responsibility for our lives and therefore leave ourselves in the wilderness of being ‘at the mercy’ of situations, living as though we are not in charge of, and responsible for, our bodies?

  8. With breast cancer at 60,000 new diagnoses per year in the U.K. and rising, this is a very relevant topic, and one that you have shed refreshing light on – actually offering the means to a cure rather than a temporary fix or symptom-stopper.

  9. The greater truth that all this incredible research leads us to is that we are not lonely isolated fragments drifting randomly in a great cosmic soup whose movements and those we make within it have no bearing on our form and the cells within it. We belong to a vast Universal intelligence and order that consistently offers us a pull back towards being able to live in complete accordance with it. As always, the choice is forever ours as to whether we align to this pull, i.e. choose to receive our instructions from the environment that surrounds us and thus align to our true essence or ‘Universality’, or whether we choose to pull against it into ‘individuality’ and therefore the subsequent discordance that then ensues from such a move made against true harmony.

  10. ‘Arrogance kills curiosity and passion’. To be open to learning anew demonstrates a humbleness, that many of us would benefit from, rather than thinking we know it all – and ‘if we keep on doing what we’ve always done, we will get what we have always gotten’ – attributed to Henry Ford. So when an open-minded person presents a new way or idea it takes a while for it to be eventually accepted by those around who have an ingrained belief that their way is right.

  11. Can we consider life on a cellular level, do we care if our cells are out of our ‘normal’ range. Everything makes sense here, I understand without a doubt that how I treat my body impacts on it at a cellular and I would say energetic level. It is like we have a huge city inside us and all our population of cells requires supporting, so often we neglect the community that works tirelessly within us, supporting our function, homeostasis and health. When it comes to cancer, I feel this subject could be discussed move widely, it is not strange to consider the mutation of cells, being a result of our choices.

  12. The findings of Mina Bissell and her team are kind of unbelievable, and this shows to me how as a whole our global approach to cancer has been quite narrow – thus what she says seems remarkable when actually if I really look at it it makes total sense.

  13. We have surveyed every last inch of life to find the thing we need to do to avoid cancer. Some people say it’s taking extraordinary doses of Vitamin C, others that the answer lives in raw foods – the inexhaustible list of solutions goes on with everyone’s opinion about the right thing to do. But very few people that I have heard, have suggested that the true cause lives not with our tasks but in the quality that we choose. What if the energy we live and breathe and move in has the greatest affect over our health? This is the simple presentation I heard 6 years ago from Serge Benhayon. It’s completely changed my life since then, and I feel I am only just starting to understand the true importance of energetic quality for every woman and man. Thank you Rebecca for joining the dots and showing that science is slowly coming to see the true significance of energy.

  14. Imagine if this blog was published in all the health journals out there, even the title would prick up a few ears and draw attention … but then again, would it? If we saw the answer written in black and white for all to see, would we want to know more?.. would we stop everything and listen up, take heed and start to make urgent changes to how we live? Does humanity want to change its ways yet? or are we content to wait a little longer and continue with our comfortable lives?

  15. Learning to listen to what our bodies are telling us, that how we are living is showing that we are out of sync to our natural rhythm, is one that I still am developing. Thanks to the Esoteric Breast Massage, without which I wouldn’t have felt and realised how hard and shut down I was as a woman. Esoteric Woman’s Health has also been a huge support in letting go of ideals and beliefs that have been a hindrance in my life and reflected in the toughness that I thought I needed to be. So deeply grateful for all the Universal Medicine modalities and how they let you feel where we have stepped so very far away from.

  16. The last point is the key one I feel in this beautifully informative article, no-one will get famous or rich in what may be our most effective way to treat cancer, the lifestyle we lead. If we can see the changes that occur to a cell based on its environment, then it makes more than just sense to give ourselves the optimal chance of health through how we live and what we subject ourselves too, it is imperative, just as it is that we stop blaming chance but instead take responsibility, for responsibility is the first step to change.

  17. If Mina Bissell said this then she is very wise
    “Mina Bissell has said herself that arrogance kills curiosity and passion, she doesn’t understand everything and that there is far more to be discovered and I agree. I think that we need to start matching up different research and findings to produce a larger understanding of what is at play in the body when cancer forms.”
    It seems to me that scientists have become very arrogant and have lost that curiosity that is so needed when it comes to understanding how everything works.

  18. What an interesting research project here Rebecca, that could influence future thoughts on cancer and other illnesses of the body.. Mina Bissell is a clever researcher to have learned to think laterally and look ‘outside the box’ to understand the relationship between the interaction between cancer cells and their surrounding cellular microenvironment. How incredible to pursue the understanding of the way that we live, the stress we are under, the diet we eat, or how we react in situations, has an effect that in turn signals to our cells, either to be healthy or to be cancerous.

  19. A single part cannot work in isolation to the whole it is a part of without compromising or forfeiting its synergy with it. If we truly understood this then we would have a far greater understanding as to why there is so much death, disease and destruction in our world in place of the harmony, joy and vitality that is otherwise so abundant to us.

  20. This blog shows the return once again to self responsibility and the deep levels of knowing that come from within. Yes the environment is there for us to work with in harmony and our bodies are radars of truth if we are willing to listen and follow with our heart rather than our head.

  21. We all get the opportunity to provide our own context in life, whether that be a loving home, a respectful and decent workplace, a kindness to all or a stillness within. All set the context from which our bodies respond.

  22. ‘…the answer is in our bodies…’ a phrase that very quietly stops me in my tracks and invites me to consider my body as a wise and insightful ally in life; always with me, always sign-posting every choice. Very inspiring, thank you.

  23. This is a great example of how nothing happens in isolation from the environment or context it is in. In fact our relationship with all aspects of life, even our gene pool matter.

  24. Putting the responsibility for our health into the hands of another, doctor or healer, or looking for a magic pill to take away the ill, alleviates us of having to look at our lives and the disharmonious ways in which we are living, treating ourselves and others.

  25. Fascinating thankyou. I had always maintained that it was likely that genetics were nothing more than a catalyst of certain diseases, an indicator of potential if you like, and not the actual cause of a disease. It would appear that my original feeling was largely correct, given now what the field of epigenetics is presenting – and so here we have a situation where within the turn of a decade, we have science turned on its head as to what was previously believed to be true. This is no criticism of science at all – that is in its truest form what it is meant to do, to continue to unravel and question even itself, but it is a criticism of those who stand by the ethos that society must constrain by way of thought and action based purely on what has been proven, and that there should not be room for countering viewpoints, or indeed ways of approaching life that are not based on such limited perceptions. I understand why that approach is taken. It is a protection of sorts to ensure we are not fleeced and harmed by the snake oil salesmen of the world in the world of health. And whilst I get that, personally, I would suggest that we need to place more faith in humanity to learn to discern for themselves what is true, and that it is much healthier to live in a society that is open minded and free by all accounts to explore life to its very end, despite the fact that occasionally mistakes might be made.

  26. It is totally fascinating for me to see the change in thinking over the decades and how certain researchers are digging deeper and deeper to find truth. If this information goes more into the world and is taken seriously we as humanity have to look at the root causes of our illness and diseases in general and question our thinking and behaviours and how this can lead to illness and disease.

  27. Great considerations posed at the end of this article… ‘Could it be…’ invites us to explore our attitudes towards things and the responsibility we have in a very clear way.

  28. Surely, it’s not truly scientific to ignore some research and focus on other research, or to downplay case histories as not providing evidence or to ignore the simplicity of our commonsense and substitute it with complex theories and hypotheses.

  29. It’s entertaining to hear a talk, watch a video or discuss a point. We like, it seems, to consider all the possibilities till ‘the cows come home’. But hasn’t it been staring us in the face, for centuries that there is something quite essential about the energy in which we live? Isn’t this something we all know, a common sense fact from long ago? Surely we can agree the way we choose to be has a great power over our reality. It stacks up doesn’t it? But our actions do not. Until that is, you realise that there is some part of us that sees the world and our body as a mere instrument with which to play. It doesn’t care what it does as long as it gets a buzz and creates delay. So the biggest question for us all is not ‘what is the cause?’ of illness and disease, but ‘are we willing to stop the rot, to cease the crazy games, forgo the drama and stimulation – in exchange for living simplicity?’. Thank you Rebecca for sharing and highlighting this.

    1. Joseph you have posed a great revealing question about our inherent awareness and sense of the significance of energy: “Isn’t this something we all know, a common sense fact from long ago?” Perhaps the focus ought to become not about proving the absolute interplay of energy in every aspect of our lives, but to enquire why on earth do we keep choosing to hold on tight to such a self-imposed blind spot that so enormously limits our intelligence and awareness.

  30. I know that depending on my environment and if I am letting this in to influence me, my mood or how I feel is constantly changing. So if I allow in what is going on around me to affect me, then to me it makes complete sense that it is having an effect on my body and cells also. I used to be totally reliant on what was going on around me and gauge what I needed to be like to cope and deal with any situation. Today I have realised from the teachings Serge Benhayon presents that I can stay consistently steady and only observe and not absorb what is going on and now I feel completely different, at ease and my body emanates with a harmonious vibration. Doesn’t take that much to do the maths on this really does it.

  31. Our true physical state of being depends on the energetic quality state of being within ourselves, in other words, we choose to hold on to hurts and live life indulging in reactions creating a body that is run on emotions which cause disharmony and eventual illness rather than the love we are made of.

  32. “The prevention of breast cancer – the answer is in our bodies”, this makes complete sense when so simply stated. – If it is in our bodies that breast cancer develops, then surely it is from within our bodies the healing way can be found.

  33. “… it is the context the cell finds itself…” – isn´t that a wonderful reflection for us as (human) beings, who only get to know who they are by the reflection of our brothers, and further indicating the cause of the multiple social problems we have as society, a society that doesn´t know how live in a way that supports each other in our true making. Let´s learn from nature and understand the universal laws we as humans tend to ignore.

  34. Cancer is in many ways a big deal and affects the lives of increasingly more people. But when we bring our lifestyle choices into the equation I get the feeling that it isn’t the big, bad disease but something we do and can change.

  35. The statistics you share Rebecca are shocking but it seems that unless we, or someone we know, are directly affected by this invasive disease these statistics simply remain as numbers on a page not a real life experience. And then of course it is important to acknowledge that although there is one person with breast cancer all the people close to them are going to have their lives affected as well; that’s one awfully big statistic when you add it all up.

  36. You can’t deny what you are presenting here Rebecca, I know the moment I started to connect with my body and look at ways it was communicating with me things started to change. How I was not being loving or how I was ignoring it and in particular not connecting to myself in a deeply honouring way. Sometimes I let life and what needs to be done become more important but it doesn’t take me too long to register this and realise how dis-connected I have become.

  37. The answer to all our woes is in reconnecting to our bodies, cherishing them and listening to the constant communication they can give us.

  38. As I read your wonderful article Rebeca, it feels like the answer could be found in the wisdom of the ancients, who always understood that everything must be taken into account when treating the human body.

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