Treating Breast Cancer Integratively
There are different breast cancers described based upon the cell type that predominates in the pathological analysis. Some of the more common ones are inflammatory, ductal carcinoma, medullary carcinoma, Paget’s disease, mucinous and tubular carcinoma. There are also subtypes within each that are based upon the antigens or receptors on or within the tumor surface such as estrogen, progesterone, Her2, etc. Those proteins and receptors make up the genetics of the tumor for chemotherapy to target. Whether the treatment is managed by surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or combinations of all three is based upon the genetic make-up of the tumor and where it is located, and if it has spread to other areas. This article will focus on the integrative management of cancer through prevention and supplementary treatment. There are many ways that you as a patient with your primary care provider or functional medicine physician can arm you with even more tools to help your oncology team fight your specific cancer.
Prevention is always the key in illnesses, but breast cancer can be elusive because we may not be aware of common triggers outside of the genetic blueprint. Let us state up front that genetics are not predeterminate. Environmental epigenetic influence is more important to the development of breast cancer, and this should be viewed as good news. You can modify your environment or habits that contribute to breast cancer, and now you will have the information to make change. Obesity is a contributor to women who get breast cancer. Weight is modifiable and must be addressed by your team. There are certain viruses and illnesses that can promote higher risks of cervical cancer (HPV) or lung cancer (Hepatitis C) or lymphomas (HIV), but we do not have a consistent infectious trigger identified for breast cancers. There is some research underway to understand the complex relationship between our immune system and cancer development. A sedentary lifestyle puts you at higher risk for breast cancer. A high alcohol consumption puts you at higher risk for developing cancer, because it promotes the high sugar, anaerobic, and high insulin environment that cancer thrives on. A poor diet that is low in vegetables and fruits will contribute to the risk of developing cancers and mostly certainly this is an easy change to make. The information needs to be teased apart regarding hormone replacement. Synthetic estrogens and progestins and unopposed estrogen states may contribute to risk of breast cancer, but a low-to-no risk approach is bioidentical hormone replacement. Radiation to the chest under the age of thirty will potentiate yet another factor toward developing breast cancer. Environmental toxins from the air, soil, or water that disrupt the endocrine system (EDC’s) are complicated in that the amount of the exposure and the timing of the exposure factors in to whether you have risks for developing breast cancer in your future. There is no mistaking that smoking cigarettes is a factor contributing to many cancers including breast. Diabetes, which is a modifiable condition, is associated with a 20-50% increase in several cancers including breast cancer. Note the multiple known contributors that all have the ability, under supervision, to help prevent and modify the breast cancer course.
How does a functional and integrative practitioner approach the patient with breast cancer? ‘Individually’ is the answer because of the many combinations of pieces form the breast cancer puzzle for patients. Prevention may need to be far more aggressive in the genetically at-risk patient. Sooner and more surveillance may be needed, and the adjunctive tool of thermography may aid in some early detection with the standard mammography and ultrasound and MRI technology. Early metabolic changes may be seen in the thermal imaging that may assist you and your team for early diagnostic work up. At the foundation and base plan is the diet. While there is not one-size-fits-all diet, we do know that there are better outcomes with no sugar (since it feeds tumor cells) diets that are high in vegetation. Particularly good and fruits and vegetables include the leafy greens, cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts), garlic, fermented, berries, and citrus (with pectin). Diet can be so impactful, and the Gerson family has been running its clinics and protocols for years to treat several conditions including cancer. The diet is vegetarian with lots of vegetable juicing. There are some adjunctive treatments with the diet that aid in nutritionally detoxifying and supporting the immune system and liver in the cancer battle. Not everyone needs to go to a clinic to make dietary modifications. Why have we discovered that diet modification works? We now know that cancer, in general, thrives in an anaerobic, high-sugar environment. Tumors need much more glucose than a normal cell to survive and grow. In fact, this is how we measure a cancer’s presence with PET scanning. A radio tracer attached to glucose will light up areas of tumor activity in a “hot spot” fashion, indicating that tumor growth and metabolism is active. This is also why diabetic patients are much higher risk for breast cancers. Therefore, “starving” the tumor and providing an inhospitable environment for cancer cells is why a much higher vegetative diet is recommended. No sugar, no cancer growth. No good can come of a high-sugar diet, and if you only remember one thing about this article is to stay away from high amounts of glucose!! Ketogenic and severely carbohydrate restricted diets must be used adjunctively in the breast cancer battle. Metformin, a diabetic medication, can cut down insulin resistance and block insulin receptors on tumors. It is repurposed to help adjunctively particularly so for the breast cancer battle. There are nutrients as well as herbs in some of our vegetation that enhance the tumor killing effects. Spinach, beetroot, broccoli, walnuts, apples, lemons, and pecans have targeted anti-cancer activity, so why not have a salad or a juice with these tasty ingredients?
In its simplest explanation, the Warburg effect unearthed the metabolism of tumors to be much more slanted toward a fermentation process that bypasses the mitochondria and oxygen steps. In the process of the tumor making its energy a lot of lactic acid builds up creating an environment to help make more tumor cells. The usual pathway that our normal cells use incorporates our mitochondria and oxygen and creates a high amount of energy with this oxygen. Cancers can thrive in an acidic environment with this abnormal pathway. It also allows them to survive away from well-oxygenated areas with poor blood supply. As a side bar comment, however, we are also discovering that our immune system and upregulation of our immune fighting cells also may use this pathway at times when it needs to build more immune cells quickly. Depending upon the condition the immune system can reconfigure itself to use different energetic pathways depending upon the battle it is fighting. Providing a highly oxygenated environment to try to steer the normal cells back into usual metabolism is another way to give no ability for a breast tumor to have a homestead. A well-oxygenated person has a better chance to fight cancer, so if there are sleep apnea, anemia (less red blood cells to carry oxygen) or altitude issues affecting your ability to take in enough oxygen, take active steps to evaluate and remedy them. Ozone therapy, which is a supercharged oxygen moiety is used to support a cancer patient in addition to ongoing treatment protocols. If we think of cancer is anaerobic, which means that it thrives in the absence of oxygen, it (the tumor) suffers when exposed to too much oxygen. As such, ozone therapy works by “smothering” the cancer. Normal cells seem unaffected by ozone, and more studies regarding the immune system’s response to ozone is also underway.
And while we have touched upon our immunity, the immune system is a key fighter in the breast cancer (and most other cancers) war. In a complicated fashion low-dose-naltrexone works on the immune system by enhancing endorphin receptors which will in turn increase “natural killer” cells (a type of T cell) and CD8 cells which are quite helpful in the process needed to program cancer cell death. I have used LDN quite successfully with patients in addition to their treatment protocols with their oncology team. The immune system also responds well to fasting and intermittent fasting since it decreases blood glucose production, promotes stem cells to regenerate the immune system, balances nutritional intake, and increases production of tumor-killing cells. Because cancer starts in normal cells, the immune system may not readily recognize the abnormal cells. It may sound counter-intuitive to consider fasting, especially when some patients have weight loss during their fight, but studies are very promising for this style of eating to enhance the immune system. The body has tools innately to ramp up its army of soldiers and fasting is easy and costs nothing to do.
Our bodies were designed for movement and there is no exception during a cancer prevention and treatment plan. Directly from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) exercise lowers the levels of estrogen and growth factors associated with breast (and colon) cancer development and progression. Meaningful movement also prevents high blood levels of insulin, which has also been linked to breast cancer initiation and progression. Exercise reduces inflammation and improves the immune system, which we have learned is extremely important to keep cancer cells in check. Vigorous exercise programs allow food to travel more rapidly through the digestive system, which theoretically decreases the amount of time a carcinogen loiters in the bowel. This free and natural habit of exercise can alter the metabolism of our bile secretion which can also cut down exposure to carcinogens in the bowel, which is particularly beneficial to colon cancer prevention. Keep in mind that an exercise program prevents obesity which has been linked as a risk factor for many cancers including breast. Breast cancer survivors who were the most physically active had a 42% lower risk of death from any cause and a 40% lower risk of death from breast cancer than those who were the least physically active according to the NCI. Overall well-being is enhanced with movement.
Our budding evidence is compiling to demonstrate that we have energetic and heat-based strategies that can take the susceptible and fragile cancer cells and heat them up to kill them. Such studies include infrared sauna settings or “photoimmunotherapy.” Hyperthermia can be induced by radio waves, microwaves, ultrasound waves, and other forms of energy. When ultrasound is used, the technique is called high intensity focused ultrasound. High intensity energy can be used around the tumor or directly within the tumor using a probe. The high body temperatures can also induce certain cell of the immune system to enhance their activity, so the approach has several strategies at the same time. Whole-body temperature can be raised by giving the patient heating blankets, warm-water immersion, or incubators. Make no mistake that these techniques are quite specialized and need experienced physicians who do this on a regular basis.
There is no once-size-fits-all approach when it comes to cancer. Find a functional medicine physician to dive into those lifestyle and environmental pieces that may be germane to your variation of cancer and the best approach to fight it. Several techniques are free. Many should be embraced with an open-minded and forward-thinking cancer team. Cancer does not need to kill. Learn to contain it and let your body find wage its war for you.