New Treatments for Breast Cancer

New Treatments for Breast Cancer

A few years ago, I went to a lecture given by Dr. Ruth Heidrich, breast cancer survivor and author of A Race for Life (Lantern Books, 2000), and heard a story that completely changed my life.

She Said

A few years ago, I went to a lecture given by Dr. Ruth Heidrich, breast cancer survivor and author of A Race for Life (Lantern Books, 2000), and heard a story that completely changed my life.

Dr. Heidrich was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 48 and underwent a radical mastectomy. During her recovery she visited Hawaii, where she happened to see thousands of athletes finish the Ironman triathlon. She has since become a six-time Ironman finisher. Triathlon was one method of recovering from mastectomy and chemotherapy that I’d never heard of.

He Said

Breast cancer affects approximately one out of nine women in the Western world; it’s second only to lung cancer as the most fatal of cancers afflicting women. Over the years health advocates–both professionals and patients–have argued over the efficacy of nonmedical breast cancer treatments, a dialogue that has spurred researchers seeking more natural therapeutic models. In 2001, the Journal of Clinical Oncology published research indicating that lifestyle factors such as exercise “can blunt some of the negative side effects of breast cancer treatment, including reduced physical functioning.” Read the article at jco.highwire.org/cgi/content/full/19/3/657.

Earlier research conducted between 1991 and 1994 included more than 2,500 breast cancer case subjects and compared the importance of diet and exercise with non-modifiable factors such as genetics. Investigators found that “potentially modifiable risk factors, such as diet, alcohol consumption, exercise, and body weight” could play as important a role as family history and reproductive and hormonal factors. See www.jncicancerspectrum.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/jnci;90/5/389.pdf.

She Said

Cancer researcher Dr. Sandra Dunn is uncovering what makes breast cancer cells resistant to treatment and has found that a common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) makes cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation and chemotherapy, thereby allowing for lower doses during treatment.

However, this NSAID, sold as Vioxx and Celebrex, has also been linked to a number of serious adverse reactions, including fatal heart attacks and strokes, in those taking them for arthritis and cancer.

He Said

New allopathic technologies to treat breast cancer also include the use of intensity-modulated radiation, in which a radiation beam can be matched exactly to the size and location of a tumour. Another new conventional medical procedure currently undergoing clinical trials places a radioactive source directly onto the tumour bed, thereby increasing the precision of the radiation and reducing the risk of side effects to the surrounding healthy breast tissue.

A number of alternative health advocates, however, question the safety of using any form of radiation in treating breast cancer.

She Said

Many women feel empowered by taking, well, their breasts into their own hands and embracing holistic health. Heidrich lost her breasts but gained a lifestyle. Shortly after she began triathloning her way to recovery, she joined a clinical trial aimed at determining how diet affected breast cancer and quickly adopted a vegan diet.

He Said

We’ve learned that diet affects hormones, and hormones play a part in developing and curing breast cancer. An article published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) notes that diets high in animal fat appear to encourage the production of estrogens, especially estradiol, which has been linked to breast cancer. To read the PCRM report on breast health and diet, see pcrm.org/health/cancerproject/women.html.

However, what you put in your diet may be as important as what you take out, as strong initial results have correlated inhibited breast tumour growth in rats that were fed flaxseed. The protective characteristics of the lignans in flax come from phyto-estrogens, which appear to reduce tumours of the breast. See
ebmonline.org/cgi/reprint/228/8/951 to read results of the 2003 study.

She Said

After Dr. Heidrich’s presentation I picked up her autobiography and cookbook and decided that I was going to learn triathlon. It’s been six years since then; every single day, I swim, run, or cycle (sometimes all three).

It’s been over a decade since I last ate meat and I always throw a handful of flaxseed in my yogourt. I hope to meet Dr. Heidrich at Ironman Canada in 2010.

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