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

by Rebecca, 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: What is epigenetics? 
  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  

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

  1. The answers to all illnesses are in the messages from the body, but we must listen to them and learn how to interpret them. Sometimes they don’t give us the answers we desire, but they always give us the truth.

  2. We have been led to regard our genes as being a fixed and unchangeable, especially when they have mutated. What this article is showing us is that even this extremely precise structure in our cells are in fact very responsive to the quality of their immediate environment. Our genes are able to both mutate and return to their true form as a consequence of how the extracellular environment is cared for or not, something which is very much within our control.

  3. 150 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each day, wow that is huge, so many families, communities are affected. The fact that it’s getting worse is also concerning; the fact that your article however shares that the way we live affects our cells provides the answers we need. What always fascinates me is why we wait until it’s too late to change, instead of loving ourselves deeply enough to change how we are living today?

  4. ‘Arrogance kills curiosity and passion’. I like this quote from Mina Bissell. From reading a lot about cancer it would seem that vested interests – and corporate greed – are preventing the exploration and use of more natural – and cheaper – ways to combat cancer. But surely prevention is key, for us to live in such a way that the cancer cells that do form in our body don’t take hold because we have built an immune system and a body that won’t allow cancer to take hold.

    1. We incubate illness and disease with our day to day choices. Many of us consistently make choices that are a veritable breeding ground for the mutation of cells. We are the ones doing it to ourselves which although it may sound harsh, means that we are also the very ones who can promote true internal flora with the quality of our choices.

  5. By being aware that our bodies will respond according to the environment we put them in, whatever environment that may be, we really have no excuse to complain if we get sick or injured. How amazing would it be if we were all willing to take full responsibility for anything that happens in our bodies and to make a choice to make the necessary changes in order to truly heal ourselves. If this were the case, our medical system would be a very different one to the one it is today.

  6. Yes this does raise the question – are we ready as a humanity to be responsible for our health via listening to our bodies? It is a big one and one only needs to look around to see the state we are in and how much we don’t listen to our bodies. But in this we have an opportunity to change; to start to stop and feel what is being communicated to us.

  7. ‘the way we live and the environment we live in, can literally affect the way our DNA is read and expressed’ Such a great article Rebecca – the way we live has a very real effect on the outplay of our physical make-up. Most would agree that this makes total sense, but not many of us are willing to undertake the depths of what this means – down to the energetic detail, where everything begins.

  8. With the information, we can learn so much knowledge, but the key is feeling into what the message is from the body. It starts as a learning to transform into a wisdom when it becomes a lived experience. I have experienced both processes and know how much deeper I can recall it when I feel it in my body with a surrender, it gives a much greater confirmation of the process. The body gives us the very wisdom we look outside for.

  9. Beautiful article Rebecca.This is breathtaking discovery about context, by Mina Bissell and team, in detail, that quantum physics provided the basis for at the beginning of the last century (1925). It is very wonderful that this strand of revolutionary science which is much closer to describing the truth of things than any other strand of science, is being made practical for the dawning of a turn around in the way the medical profession sees the growth of cancer.

  10. No matter how much ‘proof’ we get from the double-blind, randomized studies we do, the real answer is in our bodies but we tend to avoid looking there because it means we cannot then blame anything outside ourselves and we would have to take responsibility for our own health. Interesting that Mina Bissell’s research is not ‘front page news’.

  11. It is worth looking at how much we have been conned by scientific research and dogma – even when the average common sense person would quietly differ and ignore the current party line – but what if we were to all speak up openly about what feels true or not. What if we restored to science true open enquiry and learning free from bias, dogma and corruption – what kind of a science would we have then and what kind of relationship could we develop with it.

  12. Mina Bissell’s research shows the way forward but because there is no profit in it for the pharmaceutical companies, it is not being picked up for the gold that it is and money continues to be ploughed into finding a pill you can take for life that stops you dying of cancer.

  13. It amazes me how an experiment/investigation that offers a game changing way to approach breast cancer, with scientific evidence to back it up can be so ignored by the media and medical institutions… We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars researching the cure to cancers, but if the answer was found and it exposed how it was down to our lifestyles and way of living would they actually stop and tell the world?

  14. “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.” This is a brilliant and real piece of research shared here Rebecca confirming our responsibility for our own health and well being and our amazing bodies for showing us when things are not right making illness and disease a loving thing to help us and keep us on track if needed.

  15. Wow – 150 cases of breast cancer diagnosed everyday is insane. If this were happening in a breed of animals we would be much more concerned. Why is this not on the front of our papers. People don’t want to see the illness until they experience it for themselves.

  16. The impact of our environment on our health and wellbeing is clear. How we choose to live is without doubt a contributing factor to our health. So our medical systems now need to transform to include this as a foundational element of health.

    1. When the medical system understands and accepts that how we choose to live, is without doubt a contributing factor to our health, there will be a stronger call to each and everyone of us, by them, to take deeper responsibility for those small daily choices towards our own wellbeing, mental and physical health. This will change the foundation of health and the healthcare system.

  17. Rebecca what is clear is that if we don’t first consider Epigenetics with Genetics then we will never truly appreciate that the way we live life is what is key, that without our willingness to deepen the care, quality and love that we live with – coming from true purpose then true healing can’t take place. Perhaps this is one reason why many who get sick stay in the cycle of sickness rather than heal and move on.

  18. “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.” When I was a child, cancer was not so common as it is today. I mean we did hear about the odd person who got cancer and it came as a shock and would always have us as a family feeling the impact and what it meant to lose the person. And as it was, some of our friends and family got cancer, but it was usually the older generations and though it was still a shock it was not really a surprise as such. But these days, the incidence is far greater, and the people affected are far younger, and it presents a different challenge to come to terms with losing a loved one or a dear friend of a younger age, But like anything, to me this increased incidence of cancer, is a sign for us all in society to be more observant and watchful of how we are living and looking at how this is contributing to and affecting our lives. There is much we can learn from such situations, regardless of whether it is happening to us to to someone we know.

  19. It’s amazing to be able to look at the pictures of cells and structures of these in the understanding that they are subjects of the environment we are in, not just physical conditions such as heat or light etc. but all other factors such as stress and emotions will also affect them.

    1. I agree Michael. All of our environmental conditions have an impact on our cells, whether they are physical, mental or emotional, and this is something that has been somewhat overlooked until fairly recently in the medical profession. A few days ago, I heard that if a group of people sing together having first connected to who they are, that within a short time even their hearts will start beating in unison.

  20. The science of epigenetics and research by Mina Bissell is really interesting and to me shows just how much of an effect our way of living can have on our cellular make-up. The clarity that Serge Benhayon offers on the different kinds of energy that we can choose to move and build our lives with brings in the missing key ingredient here in my opinion; the union of the science of epigenetics and energetic quality gives us the whole picture.

    1. Absolutely Fiona, there is something about each cell and its DNA, but it is also about the cells environment, but then to make our understanding complete, we must bring in the energetics and the quality of our environment in terms of Energy. And hence with what Serge Benhayon presents, we finally get a whole and complete understanding and approach.

    2. I agree Fiona, there is a union and a marriage when western medicine meets the energetic whole that is universal medicine – together they provide the full and complete picture – the physical cure and the energetic healing.

  21. Despite all the billions spent on cancer research, it seems we are no nearer to understanding the true causes or know how to prevent it. Or could it be that Esoteric Medicine has already given us all the answers and all we need to do is listen and feel what is true for us?

  22. It is quite a thesis to consider the possibility that a cancer cell may not necessarily be pathogenic but actually responding to an external stimulus and all we would need to do is to change the stimulus and the cell would stop behaving as a cancer cell. Very interesting.

  23. We do need more understanding of what is at play with cancer and all illnesses and disease, ‘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.’ Absolutely.

  24. “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”- It then makes lots of sense that the way we live our lives plays an important part in staying healthy.

  25. ‘all cells, including cancer, get their instructions from the context or the environment that surrounds them.’ What more proof do we need that how we live our life matters!

  26. Our approach to illness and disease research has predominantly been focused on the issue at hand in isolation. Yet in Mina Bissell’s research, the dependency of the cells on cues from their environment to inform them about how to behave is hugely significant. Perhaps instead of targeting the misbehaving cells themselves, we need to look at everything else in life that has led to what we are facing.

    1. Absolutely Golnaz. The answers will not be found by separating out the one cell from all the others but rather from understanding the whole. By focussing on one cell which has broken down we are indulging in reductionism and we will not see the big picture.

  27. This is a great blog showing how important our internal environment is in determining whether we will get cancer, which brings it back to how we live, our diet, lifestyle, choices etcetera. A cancer cell reverted back to a non-cancerous cell when placed back in a healthy environment, ‘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.’

  28. Why do our cells to mutate and decide to become cancerous, ‘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.’ So how important is it that we look after this environment.

  29. Our bodiles are so incredible the way they are able to heal themselves, given the right conditions. And if we truly consider and inderstand this to be the case, it makes sense that by giving it conditions that do not support it, our cells will equally behave in an adverse way. So the state of our health really does ultimatley come down to our daily choices which we are totally responsible for.

  30. Rebecca, thank you for explaining this so clearly. You have made a good point here that this type of research is not likely to be so popular:
    a. because it asks people to take responsibility for their health and
    b. it will affect those who are invested in ‘curing’ cancer such as researchers and drug companies.
    Research results can be manipulated to prove a desired outcome so it would be good to take an overview of all the research that has been done and ‘connect up the dots’. Even without the research it does make sense 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.’

  31. ‘…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.’ Why isn’t the medical world looking at epigenetics? It makes sense that environment and context matters with cancer, just as it does with all else.

  32. The environment we create for ourselves, in our home, in our workplace, in how we are with ourselves, in how we are with others makes an immense difference. If lovingly attended to it creates a nurturing space that cradles us in every moment.

  33. A very clear in depth research and understanding of Breast cancer and all that goes on in our bodies. True understanding comes from the way we are living and this is not from the research often offered to us and very more real to be listened to for the future as we are beginning to see. A really great sharing Rebecca Thank you.

  34. I love your reference to Mina Bissells work. Unlike many other scientists she doesn’t put cancer down to chance or bad luck. Research into lifestyle medicine isn’t attractive to study as there is no money in it for pharmaceutical companies. No evidence doesn’t mean things don’t work. The current obsession with evidence basis is rife in many aspects of society, health and teaching to name but two areas.

  35. I am fully with you Rebecca. I too do understand that there is more to which the body responds. Illness and disease are not something randomly occurring to us but is the end result of what we have presented to it by our way of living. That means, that once we get ill, although we then need the immediate help and support form our medical system to help us cure from the bodily symptoms, changing our way of living to a more harmonious way will massively assist us in our recovery and in the prevention of any future disease.

  36. You make a great point Rebecca about the drug companies not appreciating what this article and evidence shows us, because as you say, this will be the cause of the companies going bust. So what is more important, the money or the true health of the people?

    1. Until we, and the companies with us, are mostly living for the prosperity of us all and not for self gain instead, these companies will remain ignorant to the results of these studies and will continue with doing what they have been doing for centuries, that is to put all their focus on finding that one magic pill that one day will make us all healthy again.

  37. Developing research on prevention, treatments and diagnostics to bring deeper understanding of the epigenetic changes that lead to breast cancer feels crucial in delivering very real, everyday, life-changing choices to us all.

  38. The title of this blog is truly inspiring… “The prevention of breast cancer- the answer is in our bodies” as it seems clear through epigenetics that the body follows and is in response to the choices we make and way we live in it. Possibly prevention is right under our own nose…

  39. I recall noticing how breast cancer had seeming exploded in scale a few decades ago and back then I did wonder whether the sudden adoption by so many of the contraceptive pill was the cause. I now understand that it was not caused by some external factor but rather how women are living – likewise with men and the explosion of prostate cancer.

  40. Wherever one is in life it is a result of the choices that we lived up to moment so it totally makes sense that “the key to understanding cancer and possibly preventing and/or healing it will be found in the way we live”, and also to so many at present unanswered questions.

  41. Your simplification of epigenetics is greatly appreciated Rebecca, what Mina Bissell and yourself are offering makes complete sense, it is your last paragraph that highlights the crux of this escalating disease, for there are mighty factors that do not want the truth of these findings known.

    1. Lucindag that sums it up, for when the truth is first widely known and then made part of our overall healthcare programs many industries will shrink as they will no longer be needed in the same way.

  42. Really enjoyed reading your in depth blog Rebecca, looking at how our lifestyle affects our body is key, however there needs to be a deeper look at how we get that message across, that lifestyle choices are actually much deeper than most think, it means looking at how we are with ourselves every day, what we eat, how we eat, how we move our body from the first step in the morning to last thing at night, the kind of sleep we have, how we react, the amount of emotion we take on, and the way we speak and express, the list is almost endless. And most of all how this is our responsibility to feel and be aware of, and how we can always change our next choice.

  43. Fascinating, I found reading about what you had written about DNA really easy, understandable and a joy .. I wanted to read more. This just goes to show that our lifestyle affects every single cell within our body ‘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’. I recently listened to a woman on the radio who is terminally ill with cancer; what she said is along the similar lines that you share here and was pretty amazing. She shared that she could not blame anything on the cancer but needed to take responsibility and that it bugged her when she heard others talking of their ‘battle’ with cancer as from her point of view she was at war with her body long before the cancer manifested and could even be a reason why it did.

  44. I have begun to understand how the answer to everything is in our body. And if we connect in stillness, we can feel it, and know exactly the way to live.

  45. Fascinating that science is revealing slowly to us just how inter-connected our bodies are and that no cell acts alone without influence from its surrounding ‘compadres’. We can extrapolate that out to human beings as well in that none of us live in isolation to the rest of humanity whether we are physically in contact with others or not, we are energetically connected to everyone all of the time.

    1. I agree Andrew – not only as above so below, but as within so without – that what is true for our cells that make up our bodies should then be true for the bodies that make up humanity.

    2. Very true Andrew our cells are affected by both the micro and macro environments they exist in. Therefore, both the cells in our bodies and human beings are never ‘lone islands’, we are sending out ripples all the time that affect one another’s bodies and in turn one another’s cells. A cell’s ability to return to health is supported both by it’s extracellular environment, plus the social climate the person lives in.

  46. Just how much further could science be revealing or confirming the truth of life, if humanity itself was asking for it?

      1. So very true Lucinda, and while we can criticise those who reach for that magazine, really what we need to address is why we allowed science to become so stuffy and the preserve only of those with huge intellects. If science is all around us then it should be captivating, for we live in a fascinating world, and we ought to be using our intelligence to convey this in a multi dimensional way that grabs our interest and leaves us fascinated for more.

    1. And in doing so, is it possible that we can also help the issues we currently face around aged care – of a whole generation grows up looking after themselves knowing the affect this will have on their future health, what kind of older population would we end up with?

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