Lorna Vanderhaeghe, BSc
The first two thoughts most women have when they are diagnosed with breast cancer are "Will I die? and "Will I lose my breast? So frightening is the diagnosis of cancer that many people launch into treatment before exploring all of the options..
The first two thoughts most women have when they are diagnosed with breast cancer are “Will I die?” and “Will I lose my breast?” So frightening is the diagnosis of cancer that many people launch into treatment before exploring all of the options.
In this third part of a four-part series on breast cancer, I look at the natural medicines that can be used alone or with conventional medicine to treat this common cancer. I will focus only on the natural medicines that have been shown to be effective in clinical research. Dr. Michael T. Murray’s How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine (Riverhead Books, 2002) is a wonderful guide to evaluating the current mainstream cancer treatments and learning how to combine these natural medicines with effective lifestyle strategies to beat cancer.
The Best Strategies for Beating Breast Cancer
Understand your disease:
Learn everything you can about the personality of the cancer you have: how large is your tumour; how quickly is it growing; has it spread (metastasized)? Get a journal and write down your questions and the answers your doctor provides so that you can refer to it later. Read Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book (Perseus Publishing, 2000) to learn more about staging of the cancer, biomarkers, estrogen receptor tests, cancer genes, mainstream treatments, and how to interpret all of this information.
Ask your oncologist about all the treatments available:
A thorough understanding of treatment options is essential. In the case of breast cancer, these could be lumpectomy (removal of the tumour only), mastectomy (removal of the breast or breasts) combined with radiation or chemotherapy (a term used for dozens of different cancer drugs), or chemotherapy and radiation and no surgery. Discover the long-term side-effects and risks of the treatment you choose. Ask what the difference in survival rates are among the various treatment options. Dr. Susan Love states, “70 percent of breast cancer patients would do as well or better with lumpectomy and radiation. Yet overall, 30 percent are getting lumpectomy and radiation…the rest are getting mastectomy.”
Join a caring support group:
An important study conducted at Stanford University’s School of Medicine convincingly showed that breast cancer patients who attended regular weekly support groups doubled their chances of survival. Surround yourself with those you love and those who love you. End toxic relationships.
Manage your stress:
A 2000 study published in Psychosocial Medicine showed that when stress management and relaxation techniques were taught to women with breast cancer, lower cortisol levels resulted. Cortisol, a stress hormone, is known to cause a decrease in activity of the immune cells that fight cancer. Those who were taught the techniques also reported that having breast cancer made positive contributions to their lives: they experienced a greater sense of purpose and meaning, a shift in priorities, and better family relationships. Conversely, patients on the waiting list to learn these techniques demonstrated none of these improvements.
Get a second opinion:
No matter how much you trust your oncologist’s advice, look for a second opinion. Caring doctors have no problem with this request; they want you to feel confident about your treatment choice.
Take natural medicines:
Oncologists often warn their patients not to take vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, herbs, and other nutrients before or during chemotherapy, yet there are many natural medicines that clinical research has shown are beneficial.
There are two substances I would put on a list of natural medicines not to take during chemotherapy: (i) Supplements containing soy plant estrogens for those taking hormone inhibitors such as Tamoxifen for estrogen-receptor positive cancer. Limit soy consumption to a maximum of four servings of fermented soy per week (fermented soy in the form of tempeh, miso, and soy sauce). (ii) Iron supplements: anemia can often develop as a result of chemotherapy, but unless you have a serum ferritin test showing you have true iron-deficiency anemia, do not take iron supplements. Too much iron in the blood can promote tumour growth.
See the chart for the many beneficial nutrients that can be taken with chemotherapy.
Eat delicious, healing food:
A healthy diet is the foundation of your breast cancer program. Eat a rainbow of at least seven to 10 half-cup servings of organically grown fruits and vegetables (raw or steamed) every day. The organic foods in the box will fuel your body with the energy it needs to fight your breast cancer.
Harness positive emotions:
Our emotions play a powerful role in our immune system’s ability to fight breast cancer. Laugh, purge negative emotions, seek your spiritual side, seize the day and live it to its fullest. Visualize your immune cells attacking the cancer. Whatever works for you, picture it - sharks, Star Trek lasers, guns, gallant soldiers, super warriors, all destroying your cancer. Learn to love yourself.
Using the strategies described here, cancer will become an old memory.
A Natural Medicine Program to Use in Conjunction With Chemotherapy
Proteolytic enzymes: A combination of pancreatin, chymotrypsin, trypsin, bromelain, fungal proteases, papain, and serratia peptidase to help block the invasiveness of tumour cells, prevent formation of new blood vessels, inhibit metastasis, and enhance immunity. Don’t take proteolytic enzymes for at least two days before or after breast surgery as they may increase the risk of bleeding. After that period, they will speed up post-surgical recovery.
A multivitamin with minerals: Make sure it contains 400 mg of vitamin E and 100 mcg of selenium.
Fish oil supplement: Take at the beginning of a meal at dosages of 700 to 1,200 mg of EPA and 400 to 800 mg of DHA.
Green tea extract: 300 to 400 mg daily. Drink green tea instead of coffee.
Lycopene: 10 mg daily. A research study found that women who consumed 6.5 mg of lycopene had a 35-per-cent reduction in breast cancer risk.
Calcium D-glucarate: Ensures toxic estrogens are effectively removed. Take 400 to 1,200 mg daily for cancer treatment.
Indole-3-carbinol: Is essential when treating breast cancer. It has been studied in combination with Tamoxifen and shown to effectively block the conversion of estrogen to toxic forms. Take 300 to 600 mg daily.
Curcumin: Helps the body to neutralize toxic compounds. It is 300 times more effective than vitamin E. Take 200 to 400 mg per day.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): If you are taking anti-tumour antibiotics (doxorubicin), take 100 mg of CoQ10 three times per day with meals to protect the heart from damage done by these antibiotics.
Foods That Heal
Breast Cancer Surgery - Timing is Everything
If you are scheduled for a lumpectomy, biopsy, or mastectomy, the timing of your operation may be a matter of life or death. A research study performed at Guy’s Hospital Clinic Oncology Unit in the United Kingdom found that the phase in the menstrual cycle at the time of the operation is very important for the long-term survival of women with breast cancer.
The records of 249 pre-menopausal women treated between 1975 and 1985 were broken down into two groups. Group one had their surgery between three to 12 days after their last menstrual period. Group two had surgery between zero to two days or 13 to 32 days after the last menstrual period. At the ten-year mark those women in the second group had a recurrence-free survival rate of 84 per cent, whereas group one had a 54 per cent survival.
Natural Medicines for Conditions Caused by Chemotherapy
Mouth ulcers: Take DGL licorice, 400 mg chewable tablets three times daily 15 to 20 minutes before meals. Unlike regular licorice, DGL licorice does not raise blood pressure.
Hand-foot syndrome: Palmar-plantar erythrodysthesia is an adverse reaction to chemotherapy. It causes redness and blistering, pain, and swelling of the hands and feet. Use Vitamin B6, 50 mg twice daily, along with aloe vera gel applied topically.
Severe nausea: Several double-blind studies have shown that ginger reduces nausea caused by chemotherapy. Slice fresh ginger and boil it with water to make a tea, or grate and use in foods, or add to fresh juice.