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Cancer Prevention and Treatment May Be the Same Thing

Breast cancer can take decades to develop, so early detection via mammogram may be too late.

September 19, 2011 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to the American Roentgen Ray Society


 The breast cancer, you may feel one day as a lump in the shower, may have started 20 ago.  We now suspect that all the epithelial cancers: breast, colon, lung, pancreas, prostate, ovarian, the ones that cause the vast majority of cancer deaths have been growing for up to  20 years or more. By the time it’s picked up it may have already been growing, maturing, scheming for years, acquiring hundreds of new survival-of-the-fittest mutations to grow even quicker, better undermine our immune system. Early detection is really really late detection

People are considered “healthy” until they show symptoms, but if we've been harboring a malignancy for 20 years we may feel all right, but we haven’t been. So many people who do the right thing and improve their diet in hopes of preventing cancer may very well at that very moment be treating it, as well. Cancer prevention and treatment may be the same thing.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out the other videos on cancer and diet. Also, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!

Please also check out my associated blog posts for more context: Breast Cancer Survival and SoyBreast Cancer and DietMushrooms for Breast Cancer Prevention, and Go Nuts for Breast Cancer Prevention

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out the other videos on cancer and diet. Also, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!

  • justava

    Dr. Greger: I think your tag line is very discouraging and should be rephrased. I am a 38-year survivor of Stage 2 infiltrating duct carcinoma. I found my own breast lump, was sent for a mammogram which was negative, but because of my positive maternal history, I persisted and was sent to see a surgeon. I underwent a modified radical mastectomy and fortunately was node-negative; because of my age at the time (<30), I did not receive radiation or chemo but close followup. I do agree with you that breast cancer can indeed take decades to develop, but in conjunction with family history and external input (like the birth control pill can act as "fertilizer" to certain susceptible tumors) can certainly speed up the tumor process. If your followers feel that early detection via a mammogram may be too late, you could be doing the female population a great disservice.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, justava. I’m so glad to hear you’re doing well now. But the situation with detection methods is indeed a discouraging one. Mammograms and all other early detection methods are, by definition of course, too late in that they don’t prevent cancer. And in many cases may even be too late to significantly alter the course of the disease. Please see, for example, the latest open access review on the subject, The Benefits and Harms of Screening for Cancer with a Focus on Breast Screening.” As you’ll note even in just the abstract, the regular breast self‐exams do not not appear to reduce breast cancer mortality, the effects of physician breast examination are unknown, and it is not clear that screening for breast cancer with mammography, thermography, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging does more good than harm on a population level because of the need to balance the cases in which there is benefit with the number of unnecessary biopsies and surgeries. I still encourage women to follow the guidelines of the USPSTF, but in addition want to emphasize prevention so women don’t have to go through what you had to (or worse).

      • luvplants

        Are there any similar studies showing the benefits and harms of colonoscopy? My family practitioner wants me to have this test (I’m 52). I eat only a whole vegan diet, don’t smoke or drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages, and I briskly walk 3.3 miles a day and my BMI is 20. Because I believe my risk for colorectal cancer is low, I’d rather avoid a colonoscopy. If there is a study showing the absolute benefit of colonoscopy, I’d like to know about it.

        • DrDons

          I recommend one flexible sigmoid between ages 55 – 64 and not the colonoscopy. Over the last 30 years the recommendations have changed from checking for blood by occult testing kits to flexible sigmoid to colonoscopy and differs depending on group making recommendations. The best discussion I have seen is in the August 2010 McDougall Newsletter see link at These recommendations may need to be altered depending on patients own or family history. The science keeps changing so keep tuned to for updates.

  • Damian Rowe

    Thermography is the new early detection method. Check this out.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Unfortunately thermography alone may have a sensitivity of only about 83% in detecting breast cancer (according to the latest review I could find). A combination of mammography and thermography may bring it as high as 95%, though, so there may indeed be a role for the technology. See my reply to justava above, though, in terms of prioritizing prevention. Thank you so much for your tip, Damian.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      I also wanted to point out that thermography is condemned as a substitute for mammography by the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Please see

  • justava

    If only we could be omniscient, knowing then about prioritizing prevention to what we know now. However, better late than never.

  • HereHere

    Dogs are now being trained (even in my region) to detect cancer. It seems they are more effective at finding cancer from a breath sample than our technology is. While I agree that prevention of cancer through a vegetable-based diet, exercise, and good stress management skills is the best, I could see a role for submitting a much less invasive breath sample every year (or if cost effective, it could be done frequently). The trick will be training the dogs to indicate cancer at very low levels (i.e. early stage), and I don’t know where the dog trainers and science are on this one. By the way, I liked the video that showed that exposure to cats, dogs or pet rodents at any time of our lives, reduce the risk of the blood cancer called hodgkins lymphoma. That is cool! I knew that exposure to cats reduces asthma (and allergies too, I think), but blood cancer too!

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please also check out my associated blog post, Breast Cancer Survival and Soy!

    • Tan Truong

       Dr. Greger, these links don’t work. Thanks.

      • Michael Greger M.D.

        So sorry and thanks again for pointing that out Tan- they should be running now!

  • Native Forest Radley

    Dr. Greger, I tried writing on your FB wall but for some reason it’s not letting me lol but anyway, as a vegan, I keep hearing how vegans lack iodine. What are some ways vegans can get it? 

  • rawrnr

    thanx for the link but I don’t have cancer… I have a fat mass… benign tumour in the retroperitonuim – free floating,… not attached to anything. Not sure why you linked me to this…. NOT CANCER!

  • Sabrina

    Do you think that people who have the BRCA1 or 2 are most likely going to get breast cancer?

    • Don Forrester MD

      The studies on these genes were done in families with high incidences of cancers… So it is hard to generalize to entire populations. it is clear that nutrition plays an important role in whether or not you get breast cancer. You can view the many videos that Dr. Greger has done with the cited studies for general information. The best information for patients on screening mammography is the Cochrane Collaboration Pamphlet on Screening Mammography see Dr. McDougall’s May 2012 Newsletter for the link. At this point I can’t recommend mammography as a general population screen regardless of history. As a diagnostic test for abnormalities found by patients or physicians it can be useful.

  • Kaaren

    What do you think of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy to prevent getting breast cancer? She obviously doesn’t know that breast don’t cause cancer – it’s how we eat.

  • Kathy

    Dr. Greger,
    One article posted showed a reduction in cancer growth after consuming lemons and cranberries I have Bronchoalveolar Carcinoma. It is my understanding that cancer likes an acidic environment. Years ago I had occasional kidney or bladder infection. When I thought one was coming on I consumed cranberry juice and it disappeared. I was told the reason was because cranberry was the only fruit which was able to remain acidic in your system and that is what would combat the infection. Is this true? Do cranberries and lemons create an acidic environment and if this is true why does it have an adverse effect on cancer cells? Also, it is my understanding that this study states that lung cancer is adversely affected by the consumption of cranberries and lemons. I can buy unfiltered !00% cranberry juice from Trader Joe’s, but regarding the lemon, should the whole fruit be consumed, skin and all?