The Biology of Breast Health, Part One: Little Acknowledged Risk Factors That You Can Avoid

The Biology of Breast Health, Part One: Little Acknowledged Risk Factors That You Can Avoid

By Dr. Sherri Tenpenny

Dr. Tenpenny is an expert in breast health, a well-respected health educator, and an internationally known speaker.  She is the author of two best-selling books, FOWL! Bird Flu: It’s Not What You Think and Saying No To Vaccines: A Resource Guide for All Ages.

We met her for the first time a few months ago in Long Beach, CA at The Health Freedom Expo.  Dr. Tenpenny gave a wonderful presentation on the myths and facts of breast cancer.  We asked her to convert her presentation into an article for our readers.  This is part 1 of a 5 part series that we’ll be publishing over the coming sharing Dr. Tenpenny’s knowledge of the various, ‘undercover’ dangers to breast health.

Learn more about Dr. Tenpenny and her integrative medical clinic in Ohio.

What Are Breasts?

The word breast has several derivations but is generally thought to come from the word “bhreus”, meaning “to sprout.”  

Anatomically, breasts are modified sweat glands which are capable of producing milk in 15 to 20 sections called lobes.  The network of ducts that carries the milk to the nipple is complex. 

Wax models have been made that show that they are not arranged in a radial circle, but more like a tangled root of a tree.  In between the lobules are fat, blood vessels, lymphatic channels and connective tissue holding everything together.

How Do Lumps Form?

As a woman’s breast matures and is subjected to the monthly stimulation of hormones, changes often occur in the tissue texture, and breast lumps can occur.  The most common abnormalities are cysts, fluid filled sacs that are soft, round and sometimes painful. 

When cysts are large, the fluid can be aspirated and is usually doesn’t return.  Breast cysts are often sensitive to caffeine and avoiding coffee frequently leads to resolution.

Fibroadenomas and pseudolumps are hard, firm and sometimes fixed.  They are less common after menopause and are sometimes painful. 

A malignant breast lump is generally irregular in shape.  It often has a pebbly surface, somewhat like a golf ball.  It will be very hard, like a raw carrot or buckshot. 

A clinical breast exam by a trained practitioner helps distinguish if the lump is movable or fixed but either way, a mammogram and fine needle biopsy is usually recommended because the only way to distinguish between a benign and malignant lump is by examining the tissue under a microscope. 

The good news is that more than 80% of all lumps are benign.

Suspected Risk Factors

Most are familiar with the common risk factors for developing breast cancer; such has family history, dense breast tissue, obesity, drinking more than 3 alcoholic drinks per day, and being over the age of 55

But there are at least three suspected risk factors that deserve closer investigation.

Breast Cancer Risk #1: Parabens

A 2004 study suggested that parabens found in underarm deodorants could be a contributor to breast cancer.  Found in more than 14,000 cosmetics, parabens is a hormone disruptor and can mimic the hormone estrogen. 

While the investigators did not prove the association, they raised concerns about parabens and suggested further study.1

A few years later, researcher Dr. Chris McGrath found that women who applied antiperspirants after shaving their underarms were diagnosed with breast cancer at a significantly earlier age than those who combined these habits less frequently or not at all.2

Breast Cancer Risk #2: Antiperspirants

The chemical difference between deodorant and antiperspirants is the presence of aluminum, a heavy metal, in antiperspirants.  Antiperspirants react with the electrolytes when you begin to sweat, which forms a gel that plugs sweat ducts and prevents the excretion of liquid.  

In breast tissue, aluminum can bind directly to estrogen receptors and “up regulate” estrogen-sensitive genes.3

A lifetime of exposure to heavy metals can be a risk factor for breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Risk #3: Bras

A little know risk factor is the length of time a woman wears a bra. 

Anthropologists Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer studied 4,500 women in five different cities across the country.  While not conclusive, the results were compelling:

  1. 3 out of 4 women who wore bras 24 hours a day developed breast cancer.
  2. 1 out of 7 who wore bras more than 12 hours a day, but not to bed, developed breast cancer.
  3. 1 out of 152 who rarely wore bras developed breast cancer.
  4. 1 out of 168 who never wore bras developed breast cancer.

Their research was sent to all major health centers in the United States.  The National Cancer Institute (NCI) refuted the findings saying, “There is no scientifically credible evidence that this proposed mechanism -– that bras prevent elimination of toxins by blocking lymph flow -– causes cancer.  It is not the line with scientific concepts of how breast cancer develops.”4

The NCI’s conclusion is interesting, considering no research has been done to disprove the premise.  It is well-known that stagnation and inflammation is a major cause of many diseases.  Breast disease is no exception.

Breast Cancer Risk #4: Chemicals

Chemicals are known troublemakers when it comes to women’s health.  So far, 568 compounds have been identified that affect hormones as estrogen mimickers.  These substances can increase absorption of estradiol into breast tissue, suppress the immune system and cause gene mutation.  

Women who have high chemical levels in their body are 4 to 10 times more likely to develop breast cancer over matched counterparts. 

Women with breast cancer have been found to have up to 60% more pesticides in their tissues than women without breast cancer.

As reported by toxicologist Phillip W. Harvey, “chemicals are being directly applied daily, by very large numbers of people; the long-term health effects of this exposure are essentially unknown.”5


While none of these connections have been definitely proven, in my professional opinion, they are risk factors that can and should be eliminated. 

Natural deodorants are available through many sources.  Bras can be removed or worn minimally. 

While it is nearly impossible to avoid chemicals in today’s toxic world, many can be replaced with non-toxic substances. 

The absence of evidence is not the same as absence of harm.  Taking the natural route is the best way to go to promote breast health.

Cited Sources

1 Darbre, PD. et al. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors, Journal of Applied Toxicology, vol. 24, pp. 5-13, 2004.
2 McGrath, K G. “An Earlier Age of Breast Cancer Diagnosis Related to More Frequent Use of Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Underarm Shaving.” European Journal of Cancer Prevention 12 (2003): 479-485. 24 Jan. 2008.
3 Darbre PD. Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer. J Inorg Biochem. 2005 Sep;99(9):1912-9.
4 “Dressed To Kill: The Link between Breast Cancer and Bras.” by Sydney Ross and Soma Grismaijer. (1995)
5 Antiperspirant Chemical Found in Breast Tumors”, by Salynn Boyles, WebMD. 2004

Coming Soon:

  • Part 2: The Real Risks of Mammograms
  • Part 3: The Best Breast Test: The Role of Infrared Imaging
  • Part 4: Nutrients for Breast Health
  • Part 5: The Key to Breast Health: Iodine

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