It is increasingly clear that there is a link between chronic inflammation and breast cancer. We now have numerous studies that illustrate the connection between inflammation and the development of breast cancer, as well as metastasis (the spread of breast cancer), recurrence of the disease, renewal of breast cancer stem cells, and lower survival rates. In this article, you will learn about inflammation and breast cancer and how best to deal with it.

Acute Inflammation vs Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation is a necessary process in our bodies – indeed, it helps to keep us alive when it is functioning properly. Inflammation is an immune system response to a perceived threat. If you scrape your knee, come into contact with an allergen, or catch a cold, your immune system is activated. An army of white blood cells are sent out to battle any potential invaders like bacteria or viruses. Injuries like a sprained wrist, a torn muscle or tendinitis also cause an immune system response. White blood cells are rushed to the injured area to remove bacteria and dead cellular debris. Acute inflammation is noticeable via redness and swelling that appear in and around the injured area. However, chronic inflammation is quite different. It is invisible, occurs on a deeper level in the body and masks and spurs on potentially dangerous health issues such as heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and/or cancer.

Chronic inflammation occurs in a number of ways, and in a great many different health conditions. Since we are primarily concerned about breast cancer, below are just a few of the pathways that illustrate a link between inflammation and breast cancer (and there are likely a good many more):

1. A 2015 study [1] found that an enzyme known as prostaglandin-endoperoxide synthase 2 (also known as cyclooxygenase-2 or COX-2) has been shown to be involved in the inflammatory process and to promote breast cancer growth and metastasis.

2. A 2013 study [2] revealed that inflammation elevates a cancer biomarker known as CHI3L1, which promotes the growth of cancer cells.

3. A 2016 study [3] found that inflammation activates a protein molecule known as MUC1, which triggers tumor progression. 

4. A 2015 study [4] on the role of adipokines (a class of hormones and cytokines secreted by fat cells, with both pro- and anti-inflammatory effects) in postmenopausal women found that higher levels of the adipokine C-reactive protein (CRP), a higher body mass index, as well as higher levels of insulin and estradiol, increased the risk of breast cancer by 115%. 

5. Cytokines are a class of proteins made by the immune system that act as chemical messengers. They send signals to cells and affect cellular communication and behavior. A 2010 study [5] discussed the pathways by which the cytokine Interleukin-6 (IL-6), known to be overexpressed in response to injury, inflammation and infection, promotes cancer progression and bone metastases. 

6. Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-a) is a pro-inflammatory cytokine released by immune cells in response to inflammation. A 2017 study [6] by Chinese scientists discussed the pathways by which TNF-a promotes breast cancer metastasis. In short, IL-6 and TNF-alpha both activate a pathway that stimulates breast cancer cells to move through blood vessels and adhere to their surfaces, eventually infiltrating the blood vessels and contributing to metastasis.

Obesity is a Risk Factor for Inflammation As Well

Obesity promotes several pathways of chronic inflammation throughout the body – and that includes the breasts. The suggested mechanism by which this occurs is interesting. We know that excess body weight creates enlarged fat cells. This in turn promotes insulin resistance – a condition in which cells do not respond in the normal way to insulin. This causes the body to produce more insulin, in order to try and control rising blood sugar levels. Insulin is an inflammatory hormone and when it is chronically high, it can create weight gain, especially around the abdomen. Another factor is that fat cells produce estrogen (see my article Fat Cells Create Estrogen and What You Can Do About That) so obesity and insulin resistance may ultimately result in overproduction of estrogen, and an increased breast cancer risk.

Testing for Inflammation in the Body

There are a number of tests that can be carried out by your doctor to discover the levels of inflammation with which you may be dealing. All of these tests can be indicators for inflammatory processes going on in the body:

ESR – erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This measures the rate at which the red blood cells (erythrocytes) in a sample of blood settle at the bottom of a test tube, in a process called sedimentation. Erthyrocytes settle at a faster rate in those with inflammatory conditions.
CRP – C-reactive protein. This test measures the amount of this liver protein in the blood. Levels of CRP begin to increase soon after any inflammation or infection affects the body.
MMP – matrix metalloproteinase. These are enzymes and markers of inflammation, tissue remodeling, wound healing, etc. High levels of MMP-9, for instance, can contribute to the development of numerous disease states, including breast and other types of cancer.
TNF-alpha – Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha. A cell signaling protein (cytokine) and a growth factor for immune cells and osteoclasts (cells that break down bone). TNF-a is also involved in systemic inflammation. This test is used to identify elevated levels of TNF-a.
Homocysteine – An amino acid that is a breakdown product of protein metabolism. Elevated levels of this amino acid have been shown to be linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and may contribute to the formation of plaque in arteries. High levels of homocysteine may also increase the risk of blood clot formation.

How to Naturally Reduce Inflammation

You are in the driver’s seat when it comes to chronic inflammation. If you have been found to have high levels of any of the above markers, you can control and reverse chronic inflammation just by making some healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle. An anti-inflammatory lifestyle should include:

1. Plenty of Anti-inflammatory Foods
Your food choices are supremely important to protect against and heal any existing inflammation. To find out which foods protect us the most, see my article “Epigenetic Factors to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk Part 4.
For instance, the Mediterranean diet is considered to be a prime example of an anti-inflammatory diet. It focuses on vegetables, fruits, fish, and healthy fats. Try to create meals around organic lean proteins, whole foods high in fiber, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains, brown rice and other alternative grains like spelt and quinoa. Freshly ground organic flaxseed added to your diet is also an excellent anti-inflammatory. Always try to choose organic to avoid inflammation-promoting GMO foods and pesticides.

2. Delete Foods Associated with Inflammation
Inflammatory foods include red meat (which is okay once in awhile, but definitely not daily and it should be organically raised). Also bad fats like margarine, canola oil, deep fried foods should be avoided. Get rid of processed foods, white flour, white rice, sugary foods and drinks – and even sugar-free drinks like diet sodas promote inflammation.

3. Exercise is Key
Regular exercise helps to prevent inflammation, so long as you don’t overdo it. Making time for 30 to 45 minutes of exercise daily is of great benefit, and you don’t even have to do it all at once. If you are pressed or time, get your exercise in 10-minute blocks of time.

4. Keep Weight Within a Healthy Range
Studies show that people who are overweight have more inflammation in their bodies. Losing excess weight helps to decrease inflammatory levels.

5. Ditch the Stress
Chronic stress contributes to inflammation in the body. Wise use of meditation, yoga, EFT, guided imagery, or Cognitive Behavior Therapy significantly impact stress levels and make us more stress-resistant. We might not be able to change many of the stressful situations we encounter, but by employing some of these techniques, we can certainly alter our response to them and that helps to make us more resistant to stressful situations.

Every positive step you make can definitely impact for the better the levels of inflammation in your body. Persistence pays off. Over time, your health will improve drastically if you begin to incorporate some of the suggestions here.


[1] New Insights on COX-2 in Chronic Inflammation Driving Breast Cancer Growth and Metastasis –
[2] Exploring the Role of Chi3l1 in “Pre-metastatic” Lungs of Mammary Tumor-bearing Mice –
[3] Intra- and Extra-Cellular Events Related to Altered Glycosylation of MUC1 Promote Chronic Inflammation, Tumor Progression, Invasion, and Metastasis –
[4] Circulating Adipokines and Inflammatory Markers and Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk –
[5] Interleukin-6 in Bone Metastasis and Cancer Progression –
[6] TNFa-activated Mesenchymal Stromal Cells Promote Breast Cancer Metastasis by Recruiting CXCR2+ Neutrophils –

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