As with all cancers, poor lifestyle choices combined with genetic susceptibility put one at risk of breast cancer. This includes dietary factors, obesity, lack of exercise, poor sleep, psychological stress and environmental toxins. Hormonal imbalances are a key factor in many instances of breast cancer.
What should I do to check for Breast Cancer?
You should regularly check your breasts for new lumps. If you find any new or suspicious lumps, make an appointment with your doctor. Regular breast screening is also advised by mammogram, although further tests such as ultrasound (particularly for younger women <40 years) and even MRIs arenow being recommended as screening tools, depending on your risk profile.
What should I do if a lump is found to be of concern?
Your doctor should mmediately refer you to an Oncologist (Cancer specialist). Remember, Integrative Medicine aims at the best available care, mainstream or complementary, and breast cancer, particularly when advanced or rapidly progressive often needs aggressive conventional treatment to be successfully managed.
So what about Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy or Surgery?
Decisions should be made on an individual basis as advised by an experienced Oncologist. Yes, there are side effects and major risks to these therapies, yet the seriousness of breast cancer implies that these are the first line of treatment where necessary. Taking a polarised alternative viewpoint of medicine where you reject these therapies may risk your life.
Can Complementary and Lifestyle Medicines help?
Most definitely, and the field of Oncology is one area where Doctors and complementary therapists often work together. The key is to find the correct balance between Mainstream, Complementary and Lifestyle Medicine in a coordinated plan to optimise treatment outcomes for Breast Cancer. Finding a structured integrative network may also be important to avoid falling prey to the occasional charlatan offering inappropriate medical care.
So what about my Diet?
An immune Enhancing Healthy Eating Plan is recommended to strengthen the immune system. High volumes of whole fruit, vegetables, vegetable juices, legumes/beans, nuts and seeds is important for a widespread nutrient load. Limit grains based foods and acidic dairy products as they are considered inflammatory, as are processed foods. Moderate the use of the former and reduce processed foods to a minimum. Omega 3 rich fish are also encouraged within such an Eating Plan.
A Vegetarian Healthy Eating Plan with a high proportion of raw foods is also a possibility, as long as you do not become overly dependent upon the grain group and dairy (if you are consuming this) to satisfy your hunger.
Should I Lose Weight?
As obesity is a risk factor in cancer outcomes, you should aim to reduce body fat while maintaining Lean Body Weight. It is true that body wasting may occur as part of either the disease process or cancer treatment, however there is a difference between loosing critical Lean Body Weight and losing body fat. For this reason a moderate protein intake is important during cancer treatment.
What about Fats?
While a moderate protein intake is important it must be lean animal meats or vegetarian protein sources ( please note comments on Soy to come). Animal meats should also be organic to reduce sources of artificial hormones and antibiotics.
Preservatives, Colours, BBQs?
All should be minimised due to their carcinogenic risk. This includes delicatessen meats that are high in nitrates. This also includes all junk foods, of course.
Remember, there is either junk or food - no in-between!
Why is Sugar a problem?
All forms of sugar feeds cancer. Cancers are high energy cells which thrive when fed by high blood sugar supplies. Beware of the hidden forms of sugar such as corn syrup, hydrogenated starch, sorbitol, sorghum, dextrin, lactose, fructose, galactose etc.
How about Juicing?
Vegetable juicing is an excellent way to achieve a high nutrient load, however the same can not be said of juicing fruit in large quantities. The problem with fruit juice is the high amount of fructose, ‘fruit sugar’, that you will be consuming which may risk driving the cancer onwards by providing it with energy.
As a compromise, use combined juices where the vegetable juice represents at least 80% of the combined glass. Achieve your fruit variety by choosing a msall number of fruits per day but differ the fruits fom day to day.
Eating whole fruits in large quantities is not as much as a problem because your fructose intake will be limited by the volume of whole fruit, its fibre and the lower glycemic index compared to juicing.
Is Soy Good or Bad?
This is a complicated issue and should be discussed with your own Doctor who is aware of the type of breast cancer you have. Soy influences oestrogen balance and some cancers are oestrogen receptor positive, indicating that the cancer may theoretically progress under the influence of soy. No general recommendations should therefore be made for soy based foods.
What foods are Cancer Preventative?
Numerous foods are proclaimed to be cancer preventative with various levels of available evidence. Good evidence is available for the following foods:
Deep sea oily fish: salmon, tune, mackerel, sardines, herring, ocean trout
A variety of coloured vegetables
The cruciferous vegetable group (broccoli, brussel sprouts, bok choy, kale, turnips, cauliflower
Vegetable sprouts (100g/day)
Onions, garlic and turmeric
High enzyme foods such as papaya and pineapple
High antioxidant foods such as mixed berries, figs etc
Mixed oriental mushrooms (Shiitake, Maitake, Reiki etc)
Green teas, lime flower, peppermint and verbena teas
Vegetable juices with addition of Spirulina and wheat grass
Moderate intake of red wine
Mixed nuts and seeds
What Nutrients and Herbs may Help?
A nutrient and/or herb programme should always be integrated carefully into mainstream care. The importance of a carefully networking team cannot be overstated. Complementary therapies can assist with cancer treatment and may be used under careful guidelines to decrease medication requirements and side effects. However, such programmes must always be undertaken under the care of a practitioner as generalist prescription may risk worsening your condition if used incorrectly.
Nutrients and herbs to consider include:
Selenium, which may be effective in cancer treatment and prevention. Dose and form are critical and supervision by a practitioner is essential.
Vitamin D is thought to have an important anti-cancer role irrespective of the type of breast cancer you are at risk of. Vitamin D presently appears to be far more common than previously believed and is low not only where inadequate sun exposure occurs (whether due to climate or dress).
Vitamin C requirements may be increased in the presence of cancers. Intravenous Vitamin C may be used in some clinics. Although controversial, it may also be used to increase the effectiveness or decrease the toxicity of chemotherapy agents. Only your doctor should decide upon this approach to care as it affects his/her prescription of chemotherapy drugs.
Zinc has a substantial role in regulating the immune system.
Iodine is a key nutrient in breast health and preliminary evidence suggests it may assist in the treatment of breast cancer, particularly where the tumour is influenced by oestrogen. Like Vitamin D, Iodine deficiency is also extremely common throughout the world.
Vitamin E may have a role in cancer treatment but the use of the correct form of Vitamin E is important. Common Vitamin E’s can be synthetic and inappropriate. Tocotrienols are more effective than the more commonly used tocopherols, and where tocopherols are used they should be mixed rather than a single form (many commonly used Vitamin Es are made up of alpha tocopherol alone). Gamma tocopherol appears to be more effective than alpha tocopherols.
The nutrient Indole-3-carbony, derived from cruciferous vegetables, has have been found to have anti-carcinogenic abilities by manipulating oestrogen metabolism. It may have a supportive effect when combined with some chemotherapy and pharmaceutical treatments.
Growing evidence suggest Coriolus versicolor, an extract of the mushroom of the same name, may be of benefit due to its anti-cancer properties. Its use is currently being trialled in hospitals.
What about the side effects of treatment?
Can Nutrients/Herbs help with these?
Calendula ointment may be helpful in limiting dermatitis that occurs after radiotherapy.
Astragalus Membranaceous may boost immunity during chemotherapy. Along with the use of Probiotics and Ginger, Astragalus may also limit the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.
Amino Acid supplementation may assist with the fatigue associated with chemotherapy. You must discuss this with a practitioner as many commercial forms are high in sugars such as lactose, dextrose and fructose. Other nutrients that may assist depending upon deficiencies include L-Carnitine, CoQ10 and Vitamin B12.
If you experience thrush a combination of probiotics and herbal therapies that act against systemic fungi can be trialled under the guidance of a practitioner.
Mouth and gum side effects can be aided by B Group Vitamins, sub-lingual CoQ10 and Zinc.
Magnesium (chelated with B Group and Malic acid support) and Vitamin D may be helpful in reducing the muscle pain depending upon the cause.
Individualisation is the Key!
Given how many supplements may possibly be trialled (decision according to You), it is essential that your programme is individualised by a practitioner and integrated with your chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgical interventions. Quality balanced supplements are also critical. Care must be taken in choice here as the wrong supplement form even when the nutrient is advised may mean treatment is ineffective or even detrimental.
Should I Exercise?
Exercise is always encouraged whether as prevention or to support treatment. There are times in which exercise may be difficult and you should discuss a balanced approach to exercise during such periods with your carers. Both aerobic and resistance training have been found to be beneficial. Yoga including relaxation/meditation components may also be beneficial.
Should I Quit Smoking?
This is probably the most significant change you can make in your life if you are a smoker. If you cannot quit without assistance, this being the majority of smokers, it may be sensible to join a multidisciplinary programme. Peer support is often essential to the success of any quit smoking plan.
Remember, although pharmaceutical approaches that replace nicotine via chewing gum, patch or otherwise are often helpful, eventually they must be weaned otherwise you may simply be trading the risk of lung cancer for other diseases.
How important is regular Sleep Patterns?
Shift works and irregular sleep patterns have been linked to increased breast cancer risk due to the effect on melatonin and immunity. Seek to improve your sleep where ever possible and limit the amount of shift work you do. Melatonin support through specific nutrient/herb combinations or individually compounded slow-release formations can assist with improving sleep cycles.
What about Mind-Body Therapies?
Several Mind-Body therapies have been studied and found to be effective to support breast cancer management. These include:
As stress is a significant contributor to cancer progression, stress management techniques may also be helpful to place life in perspective including:
Other Effects Based Stress Managements techniques
Cause Based Stress Management Techniques
Learining Emotional Intelligence
Achieving Life Balance
Is Group Support important?
Group support is very important to both quality of life and survival rates. Group support may vary in content including components of stress reduction, coping and meaning and purpose. You should seek the form of group support that matches your needs and belief structures.
What about my Relationships?
The support of friends and family is crucial. Love is a powerful component to many acts of healing. It may very well be time to also look towards healing wounds of nurturance through acts of reconciliation and forgiveness.
And Spiritual Needs?
Unfortunately, many women do not survive breast cancer while others are left wondering about the fragility of life. At such times, identifying and understanding your spiritual beliefs and needs may be very important in making sense of what is happening to you. Spiritual groups offer significant support if held in supportive rather than hierarchical forums.
Remember that spirituality does not necessarily equate to being religious, rather it may simply been seen as developing an understanding of your connectivity to the greater existence around you.
Do Miracles happen?
Yes, they do, and they cannot be discounted,however rare they may be. However, so does effective integrative medical care that includes elements from which miracles are derived; nurturance, optimism and faith, blended with diet, exercise, supplementation AND mainstream medical intervention.