Breast cancer is a widely spread disease that affects 192,000 women and 2,000 men every year. It is the most common cancer in the United States, aside from skin cancer. Breast cancer starts when your body begins producing more cells than it needs, and when the old or damaged cells do not die and get reabsorbed. This leads to growths and tumors. There are two different types of tumors, benign and malignant. A benign tumor is non-cancerous, can be removed and is rarely life threatening. A malignant tumor is a cluster of cancer cells than can spread throughout the body and invade and damage the tissue and organs. The cancer cells are able to spread by way of your blood vessels and lymph vessels. This enables them to invade all the tissue of you body by attaching to that tissue and growing a new tumor. This process of spreading cancer cells is called metastasis. Although there is no perfect “cure” for breast cancer there are treatments, both conventional and holistic, that may help to control this disease.
We have been told our whole lives that eating healthy and exercising are important in daily life. This does not change during or after breast cancer. In fact, it is even more important to take care of your body if you suffer from cancer. For many women, eating, with this disease, can be very difficult. The emotional stress alone can decrease appetite and lead to stress induced vomiting and nausea. Side effects of medications or other treatments include mouth blisters, exhaustion, depression and appetite loss. On the other hand, some women suffer from weight gain due to stress and cancer treatment. Many women have reported that exercise may decrease these symptoms. Cardio such as yoga, swimming, walking and many other activities are perfectly acceptable for most women dealing with breast cancer.
Dr. Barrie Cassileth, the chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, states that “…herbs and other dietary supplements are biologically active compounds and they frequently have negative interactions with prescription pharmaceuticals”. This is a common sentiment agreed upon by many of today’s professionals. Dr. Brian Lawenda, a radiation oncologist from the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, takes a different approach. “People are taking high-dose antioxidant supplements thinking that they are only going to protect normal cells, but both pre-clinical and clinical data show that they may protect both normal and tumor cells,” says Lowenda. In 2008, Dr. Lawenda and his team reviewed the results of published, randomized clinical trials that tested antioxidants with radiation treatment and chemotherapy. They reached the conclusion that high doses of “supplemental antioxidants during chemotherapy and radiation therapy should be discouraged because of the possibility of tumor protection and reduced survival”. (Reynolds) Although this may seem like a very negative approach to substances that many people consider harmless (vitamins, minerals and herbs) some interesting studies are being conducted to determine whether a more natural approach can be used alongside the current treatments, to help with recovery and treatment symptoms. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine focuses on these unconventional methods. Practices range from botanicals, herbs and antioxidants to acupuncture, yoga and meditation. Evidence from these studies is limited due to a number of interfering factors; however, several interesting conclusions have been reached regarding substances such as noni and grape seed extract. Noni (Morinda Cirtifolia) is an evergreen shrub that flourishes in tropical regions such as Australia and Polynesia where it has been used traditionally, as a dye. Although it has not been well studied in people, laboratory research has shown noni to have immune-stimulating and tumor-fighting properties. Grape seed extract (Vitis Vinifera) has been used medicinally since ancient Greece. Grape seed extract contains antioxidants that may help stop the cell damage caused by free radicals. This venue looks promising but more studies are needed to determine the benefits of these substances.
There are five main methods of treatment that are currently being used to fight breast cancer. First, there is surgery which can range from simply cutting the malignant tumor away to removing the entire breast (and possibly part of the chest wall). Radiation therapy involves using high-energy x-rays (or other types of radiation) in order to kill or prevent cancer cells. The third treatment method, which is perhaps one of the most well known, is called chemotherapy. This treatment employs the use of drugs to either kill cancer kills or to stop them from spreading. Hormone therapy removes certain hormones in the body or blocks their action in order to stop cancer cells from growing. The fifth and final treatment method is known as targeted therapy and uses drugs or other substances to target cancer cells while avoiding normal, healthy cells.
NCCAM. 2010. Cancer and CAM: At a glance. Publication No. D453. Retrieved on March 1, 2011 from the National Institute of Health database:
NCI. 2009. What you need to know about breast cancer. Retrieved on March 1, 2011 from the National Cancer Institute database:
Reynolds, Sharon. 2009. Dietary Supplements and Cancer Treatments: A risky mixture. Volume 6 (16). Retrieved on March1, 2011 from the National Cancer Institute database: