Yes, I know, breast cancer prevention must begin in childhood

Last month, Dr. Graham A. Colditz made headlines in an online medical journal with a big, new announcement that breast cancer prevention must begin in childhood.

Of course, this finding is true. But it’s not “new.”

You see, I made this very same conclusion 30 years ago in my Ph.D. dissertation research on the long-term risk factors for breast cancer.

It’s actually a very sad statement that the U.S. spent decades and hundreds of billions of dollars on research over the past 30 years. But it couldn’t produce anything more than what a young, fresh-out-of-graduate-school student could clearly see.

In a moment, I’ll tell you exactly what parents can do to help reduce their daughters’ lifetime breast cancer risk.

But first, let’s back up…

While researching for my Ph.D. dissertation, I found no evidence that adult body weight, adult dietary fat consumption, smoking, sun exposure, or any of the government’s favorite culprits strongly affected a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. And today, there is still no real evidence that points to any of these favorite risk factors when it comes to breast cancer.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Certain factors do raise a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer. As I wrote in my dissertation 30 years ago, the top-four proven risk factors for breast cancer are:

  1. Early age at menarche
  2. Having fewer children
  3. Having children later in life
  4. Not breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, for many, this finding is an inconvenient truth. But inconvenient or not, it makes sense. Just think about it for a moment. As puberty came earlier, while fertility and breast-feeding rates in recent generations in the U.S. have plummeted, breast cancer rates have skyrocketed.

Of course, in the mid-1980s, I also uncovered evidence that nutrition and growth during childhood plays an important role in determining a woman’s lifetime, long-term breast cancer risk. I also found it appears to play a role in prostate cancer in men and glandular cancers, including colon and pancreatic cancer.

After graduate school, I went to work as a young medical scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where I continued to delve into all the evidence I could find on breast cancer. I figured out, reported, and published virtually everything I told you about today in several medical and scientific journals. I also argued against the approaches–like low-fat diets–that were obviously not going to work.

But only two investigators really picked up on the clues.

The first was my colleague Dr. Demetrius Albanes at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). He continued research along these lines and kindly invited me to continue to collaborate with him for several years after I left the NIH.

The second was Dr. Walter Willett at Harvard. Dr. Willet is a brilliant researcher on human nutrition and led the hugely important Physicians’ and Nurses’ Health Studies. Walt cited my findings in a major review of nutrition and health published in 1986 in the influential New England Journal of Medicine. Graham Colditz also started his own research under Walt Willett.

My original research laid the groundwork for truly different, innovative thinking about breast cancer prevention. (Instead of more of the same old, same old, popular, and politically correct theories.)

Of course, it also provided the topic for my Ph.D. dissertation. I don’t know whether it was because I studied both medicine and science as an M.D./Ph.D. student in the new Medical Scientist Training Program. Or that my specialty subjects were Pathology on the one hand and Anthropology on the other. But many others were unable or unwilling to see what was obvious to me.

So, aside from the interest shown by those to two researchers, my findings went unnoticed for 30 years.

No wonder we’ve made zero progress in chipping away at mortality rates for breast cancer. (Yes, we catch more cancers with mammograms. But we aren’t saving more lives than we were 30 years ago. And we certainly aren’t preventing breast cancer any better.)

So you can understand why, when I read about Dr. Graham Colditz’s “discovery” that breast cancer prevention must begin in childhood, I hardly knew what to think or feel.

Today, Colditz is with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. But he began his career researching cancer with Dr. Willett at Harvard.

Dr. Colditz now understands that effective breast cancer prevention efforts have begin early in life. And a growing wealth of scientific evidence indicates that childhood and adolescent diet and lifestyle clearly drive the risk for adult breast cancer. In fact, by the age of 30, a woman’s lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is pretty well established.

But it’s frustrating that nothing new about breast cancer is being reported that I did not know and publish back 30 years ago.

You may wonder, how does this even happen? How does an important discovery remain neglected for 30 years? Or as my colleague, Demetrius Albanes suggested, until it gets rediscovered at Harvard.

Which reminds me of the Element Song by Tom Lehr from the early 1960s:

“These are the many elements we’ve heard about at Har-vahd;

And if we haven’t heard of them, they haven’t been disco-vahd,”(set to the tune of the Major General song from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance”).

Well, most mainstream scientific institutions in the U.S. aren’t really interested in just following the science. They only care about pet theories, political correctness, and lining up for more funding for favored projects. For this reason, I eventually left them all behind–physically and intellectually.

But in the meantime, another full generation of women did not receive the message… another generation of children grew to adulthood…and another generation of government bureaucrats and academic researchers made careers chasing after the wrong ideas about cancer.

The government tried researching everything else for 30 years. But it comes back to basic diet and nutrition during the critical period of childhood growth and development. All the attention focused on middle-aged and older women just won’t do the job. And the government-industrial-medical complex grossly oversells the benefits of early detection through periodic mammograms.

So what should parents do to start their daughters off right?

First, a newborn should always be breastfed. A childhood diet should include healthy amounts of fruits and green, leafy vegetables. Children should avoid sugar, carbs, soft drinks, and cow’s milk. They can obtain calcium for growing bones from other dairy products and from meats, fish, and other seafood (as long as they also get enough vitamin D). Children should also get plenty of sun, exercise, and outside physical activity. And they should stay away from the TV and computer screen.

These good habits during childhood will help prevent breast cancer later in life. It will also help prevent Type II diabetes and heart disease later in life.

Of course, the overweight, elitist, and unsustainable U.S. biomedical research house-of-cards–which still blithely but blindly promises us a cure for cancer–is about to collapse on itself unless there is real reform. Sadly, the taxpayers foot the bill for this failed approach. And women pay with their health and their lives.

In tomorrow’s Daily Dispatch, I will tell you more about what is at risk–and not at risk–with the looming collapse of the biomedical research racket. But given the research racket’s results from the last 30 years, the lyrics from another Gilbert & Sullivan’s opera came to mind: “They never would be missed…they never would be missed.”


1. “Breast Cancer Prevention Starts in Childhood,” Medscape ( 12/8/2014