Nutrition & Cancer Part I: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Cancer is a deeply personal subject for many people. We all know someone who has developed cancer, or at the very least, has had a cancer scare. But cancer doesn’t spring out of nowhere. There are myriad warning signs that surreptitiously slip by even the most trained eyes. 

Consider a woman with metastatic breast cancer. Decades prior to detection, she was diagnosed with diabetes, and was given insulin to lower her blood sugar. In lieu of taking charge of her diet, she was instructed to take the latest blockbuster drug of the time because it was standard of care. Instead of learning which foods to avoid, she was instructed how to calculate her insulin dose based on the amount of carbs consumed. 

At this point, she began to stop living her life as an avid skier, which negatively impacted her emotional well-being. Noticing a shift in her demeanor, the dietician encouraged a social life, albeit with friends who enabled her desire for donuts, fried chicken, and pizza at the community church. 

Over many years, the woman’s immune system grew weaker with the onslaught of sugar, refined starches, and animal protein. Her body continued to become unresponsive to the information of rapidly dividing cancer cells.  When the cancer cells can consolidated to the point of becoming a large tumor, it reached its tipping point when the cancer finally erupted just below the skin surface. By this point, the cancer had existed for over 10 to 15 years. The woman was only then informed she had cancer, and was placed on a course of palliative chemotherapy.  Her dietician again gave the woman a handout of which foods to eat, one of which was ice cream and meat.  

This was the story of my classmate, Marie, whose mother died of cancer at 86. 

To be clear, I am not condemning this woman’s doctor or dietician (RD), as I know many excellent doctors and RDs who understand the world of insulin and nutrition as it relates to cancer. The goal of this post is to fundamentally increase awareness among doctors and patients alike so we can speak from places of truth. What we do with this information is up to us and the ones we love. Armed with the power of information, we can prevent a lot of what we see clinically for ourselves and our loved ones. 

Yet, nutrition and its association to cancer remains, to this day, a very controversial topic. 

90-95% of all cancers are a result of lifestyle factors, dietary eating patterns, environmental toxicants, and infections, while the remainder 5-10% are due to true genetic defects (Davoodi, Esmaeili, & Mortazavian, 2013). In other words, the environment you live in, the food you eat and drink (plus all the contaminants it contains), and your lifestyle are the biggest determinants of your cancer risk and quality of your lifespan.

In truth, nutrition is information to our body. The food you eat, break down, and absorb ultimately directs physiologic processes within and among cells. Nutrition, just like stress, is information for what to do next. In an ideal state, everything runs smoothly when given the right information. Cancer does not exist with the right “data inputs”. 

Have you ever gotten the wrong information? Were you ever told something that wasn’t clear or a downright lie? Were you able to then proceed in the right way? Did you finish the task at hand? Or did you have to start from scratch? Cancer thrives with misinformation.

Lifestyle factors that predispose one to duplicating cancer cells can be thought of similarly, since day-to-day inputs often send the wrong message to our cells. An inadequate cell that cannot overcome the insult becomes collateral damage. One cancer cell goes unnoticed to us, but not to our body. 

For example, excess alcohol, animal protein, and caffeine use in an already susceptible individual can signal inflammatory pathways that hinder the body’s ability to function normally. Physical inactivity, insufficient daily sleep, and emotional unrest can create a constant state of stress which trigger the same inflammatory pathways as toxic environmental toxicants derived from many food and recreational sources.  When one’s diet is nutrient-poor and loaded with GMO crops (i.e., wheat, corn, soy), saturated fats (derived primarily from animal protein and nuts), processed food and sugar, it directly contributes to mental, physical, and emotional sluggishness. The cells begin to starve and remain in a constant state of terror. Cells receive the worst sources of information for maintaining normal cell functions.  

It is estimated that 30-40% of all cancers can be prevented by diet alone (Davoodi, Esmaeili, & Mortazavian, 2013). Realistically, people are not receiving this information in regards to cancer prevention and when diagnosed with cancer. There are valid reasons for this, with marketing taking the prize of misinformation.

Think about it. Why do we associate strong bones with calcium in milk? That’s the power of the “Got Milk?” campaign from the 1990s that was credited with greatly increasing milk sales in the United States. As a teenager, I remember trying to drink as much milk as I could because I wanted to be big and strong. I can still picture Serena Williams and Tom Brady in milk mustaches. The milk industry paired their product with athletes of ultimate physique and celebrities with major social influence. If people I looked up to touted milk’s nutrient content, I didn’t need convincing that it would make me as strong. The feeling that I had to consume it to be a well-rounded individual lingered. 

The “Got Milk” campaign has been created and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to the invention of Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) by Genetech in the 1970s. Before rBGH, breastmilk was only produced by female cows exclusively for its baby until the calf became big enough to be sustained on only grass. Female cows would then stop producing breastmilk (similar to women since we are all mammals).   

Once approved in 1993, rBGH has been injected in 1 in 6 U.S. female cows causing an increase in milk production by 20%.  The USDA, whose board members consist primarily of representatives from agriculture and industry, needed to now create a high demand for dairy products domestically and internationally.  The USDA created a highly coordinated national campaign and research programs to build just this demand. 

The scientific community has since shown that rBGH stimulates production of Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) in all mammals, transforming normal cells into tumorous ones in breast tissue (Kumar et al., 2014). Cows and anyone consuming their breastmilk develop larger breasts where healthy breast cells are transformed into cancer cells. rBGH is not removed via pasteurization, a process that heats milk to around 100°C (212°F) to sterilize pathogens and extend shelf life.  Bovine leukemia virus, also often found in cows’ breastmilk, survives pasteurization and hence, causes blood cancers in those consuming rBGH-contaminated milk (Kumar et al., 2014). 

Certain amino acids in cow milk products raise cancer risk by increasing signaling pathways (Genkinger et al., 2014). For example, the protein casein promotes the proliferation of prostate cancer cells more readily than any other proteins in milk (Sung-Woo et al., 2014). 

There are several books that describe, in great detail, the link between milk consumption and cancer. Some of my favorites are The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II, and Your Life in Your Hands by Jane A. Plant.  The 20+ year research studies have clearly demonstrated the carcinogenic effects of milk amongst many others associated health problems. 

When the Federal Trade Commission finally asked the USDA to investigate its scientific basis of their claims made by the milk moustache ads, the USDA had to admit they had “no proof”.  In 1999 the United Nations ruled to not endorse rBGT milk and has since placed an international ban on US milk. Despite all of the research which has clearly shown there is no nutritional benefit and actually more health risk associated with milk consumption, the FDA, World Health Organization, and National Institute of Health continuously state milk products are safe for humans exclusively because of economic reasons. 

Research will continue to flip-flop on whether milk, as a whole, is harmful or beneficial. There are literally thousands of reasons to explain the differences found in published studies (including conflict of interests, population studied, differences in production, types of milks, the cows’ feed-- frequently unknown, milk processing, etc.).  The point to remember is that there will always be limits to science partially because the researchers’ scope is too narrow, and each biochemically unique individual with their one unique lifestyle and environmental exposures are fundamentally different from one another.  

Cancer doesn’t happen overnight. It is a long-term process that can go years unnoticed.  When we focus on one specific component and look for a relationship, we are entirely disregarding the hundreds of other components that increase one’s cancer risk.  

Check back next week for my review of other commonly consumed items that are associated with cancer. You DON’T want to miss it!

If you or a loved one is facing the diagnosis of cancer, please CONTACT US

Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is the lead integrative functional medical physician at SF Advanced Health. She specializes in cell function and how to confront the root cause of illness.  Let SF Advanced Health help you get back to thriving and guide you on the path to lifelong wellness.



Davoodi, H., Esmaeili, S., & Mortazavian, A. M. (2013). Effects of Milk and Milk Products Consumption on Cancer: A Review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 12, 249-264.

Genkinger, J. M., Wang, M., Li, R., Albanes, D., Anderson, K. E., Bernstein, L., . . . & Smith-Warner, S. A. (2014). Dairy products and pancreatic cancer risk: a pooled analysis of 14 cohort studies. Annals of Oncology, 25(6), 1106–1115.

Kumar, S., Kumar, K., Suman, S., & Kumar, P. (2014). Cow Milk and Human Health-A Review. Journal of Dairy Science and Technology, 3(3), ISSN: 2319-3409(online).

Larsson, S. C., Crippa, A., Orsini, N., Wolk, A., & Michaëlsson, K. (2015). Milk Consumption and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients, 7(9), 7749-7763.

Sung-Woo, P., Joo-Young, K., You-Sun, K., Sang Jin, L., Sang Don, L., & Moon Kee, C. (2014). A Milk Protein, Casein, as a Proliferation Promoting Factor in Prostate Cancer Cells. World J Mens Health, 32(2), 76-82.

Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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