NATURALLY HEALTHY: Naturopathic approaches to breast cancer

Overview: Of all the breast cancer diagnosed in women, three quarters are diagnosed in postmenopausal women and one quarter in premenopausal women.

The five-year survival rate of local breast cancer is now 99 per cent.

Only six per cent have metastatic disease with a much lower survival rate.

The death rates due to breast cancer have fallen 30 per cent over the last 20 years and this may be due to early stage diagnosis.

Mammography has evoked considerable controversy recently because of the over-diagnosis of many women.

In the U.S., 1.3 million women over the past 30 years or 70,000 women per year.

The newest guidelines in Canada is for women is to start getting mammograms at the age of 50 every two years.

Ultimately the decision about when to start screening and how often is decided by both the woman and her health-care provider based on individual risk factors and index of concern.

Risk Factors: There is no universal cause of breast cancer. The chance of getting breast cancer increases with age. Inherited genetic mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 play a role in five per cent to 10 per cent of breast cancer cases.

Those with BRCA1 , BRCA2 and p53 mutations are associated with a 40 per cent to 85 per cent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Women with a mother, daughter or sister with breast cancer are twice as likely to contract the disease as women with no close relatives with breast cancer.

Progestins used in HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) were found to be associated with an increased risk of invasive breast cancer as compared with women who took conjugated equine estrogens alone.

Women who have taken birth control pills at any time during the previous 10 years are thought to have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer than those who have not.

Other risk factors include: insulin resistance, obesity, alcohol use;  sedentary lifestyle, smoking, eating charred red meat regularly, exposure to pesticides, PCB’s and other pollutants and deficiency of iodine and selenium.

Diagnosis: A monthly breast self-exam is still recommended in all women as some women find their own breast lumps.

Thermography assesses temperature differentials in the tissue and is considered a functional test of the breast however it is not a stand-alone diagnostic tool and any changes are backed up with ultrasound or MRI. The only definitive diagnostic method is biopsy.

Naturopathic Approaches:

Exercise: This is the most important lifestyle intervention for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Many studies have shown that it stimulates the immune system, enhances detoxification, encourages positive self image and helps prevent or reduce obesity. Women in a study of cancer survivors who exercised at least 60 minutes of brisk walking five days per week experienced a 53 per cent reduction in risk of death. Women who decrease activity after diagnosis have a fourfold greater risk of death.

Lower inflammation: 2 hydroxy estrogens are the less inflammatory form of estrogen in the body while the 4 hydroxy estrogens are very inflammatory and are associated with a higher risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. The 2 hydroxylation pathway is augmented with nutrients such as diindolylmethane and indole-3-carbinol, the active ingredients found in the brassica family of foods. Inflammation is also modulated by keeping the gut healthy.

Sleep: Women who slept six hours or less per night had a 62 per cent increased risk of developing breast cancer compared with women who slept seven hours.

Stress: This can be due to such things as marital breakups or divorce, spousal death or chronic depression. Exercise such as yoga, lowers cortisol, levels the stress hormone.

Black Cohash: Facilitates cell repair and cancer cell suicide; protects against recurrence, and offers a significant cancer protective effect.

Green tea: protective against breast cancer and can also inhibit breast cancer cell growth and invasion in stage I to III.  Green tea is also available in capsules if you don’t want to drink 4 8-ounce cups per day.

Indole-3-carbinol or diindolylmethane (DIM): increases 2 hydroxyestrone production which is the non inflammatory arm of this estrogen metabolism pathway.

Melatonin: Exerts cytotoxic effects on cancer cells by stimulation apoptosis (cell suicide), reducing invasiveness, inflammation and it also increases the efficacy of tamoxifen.

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