The most progressive approach women can adopt today in the fight against breast cancer is to concentrate on its prevention. This is particularly important for women who have any family history of breast cancer. Two of the most potent allies women have for preventing breast cancer are seleno-methionine and vitamin E.
This approach must also involve an attitude change. Most people believe free radicals are the main cause of accelerated ageing, cancer and other degenerative diseases. However, the biological research has moved on. So rapid has been its progress that the vista of free radicals has become a blurred picture, replaced by a much more specific biochemical activity.
To date, biologists have shared their understanding of the potentially dangerous activity within cells derived from the breakdown of reactive oxygen, reactive nitrogen and reactive nitrogen oxide products. Recently, an additional group of dangerous products that are active in cells, reactive sulphur products, has also been introduced. It has been suggested that these chemical substances also act as ‘aggressive oxidising agents’. Although we do not usually notice changes in the atmosphere, the critical oxidising potential of the atmosphere has actually shifted from a negative minus-five to a positive plus-13 in the past 2.5 billion years. The level of oxygen in the atmosphere is of critical importance. It has been maintained at 21 per cent for millions of years, but a one per cent increase in the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere can have some negative effects.
In November 2001, the Schrauzer Symposium was held in Baden Baden Germany to discuss selenium and breast disease. Thoughts were expressed concerning the role of oxidation stress -- that is the products produced by the breakdown of oxygen and nitrogen -- in the initiation of breast cancer and the potentially important role of seleno-methionine to neutralise its influence.
Benign breast disease
Also discussed at the conference was the link between benign breast disease and breast cancer. Benign breast disease is a common breast condition experienced by many young women. The signs and symptoms of this condition include:
- Swelling and tenderness of one or both breasts
- Marked induration (hardened area) of one or both breasts, particularly towards the axillary tail (armpit)
- Development of cysts of variable size and shape, gradually or suddenly
Many women are tolerant of these signs and symptoms. While mammograms can detect breast cancer, they usually don\'t indicate benign breast disease, so women may put up with the discomfort, even if extreme. It is well recognised that various treatments are frequently only partially successful in relieving pain and tenderness associated with the disease. However, it is important to consider the prevention of breast cancer at this stage, irrespective of the person\'s age.
Much confusion has surrounded this condition on account of the large number of technical names given to it around the world. In Australia it is usually referred to as ‘benign breast disease’ or ‘mammary dysplasia’. In 1902 it was called ‘chronic mastitis’ by Cheatle, an English surgeon. Subsequently, he denounced the term as a fallacy and instead described it as \"a dangerous condition frequently associated with cancer\". Similarly, Willis, a famous Australian pathologist from The Royal College of Surgeons in England, called the condition ‘cystic hyperplasia’. He, too, was highly critical of surgeons who were not able to accept that it was frequently associated with breast cancer.
Recently, the condition has been given another name: mammary intraduct epithelial hyperplasia (MIEH). This all-inclusive term describes the basic cellular activity that can result in excessive activity of the cells lining the milk ducts, cyst formation, intraduct cancer, breast cancer or breast destruction.