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Breast Cancer

Published by Dr. Jennifer Nardella

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in women over 20 years of age and the second leading cause of death. 1 in 9 women in Canada is expected to develop breast cancer. 1 in 29 women will die from breast cancer in Canada. Men make up 1% of all cases. Treatments for breast cancer have proven to be effective and overall, the 5-year survival rate is 88%.

There are a variety of risk factors in developing breast cancer. These include:

  • Ineffective blood sugar regulation. Presence of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) has been shown to promote breast cancer cell growth.
  • Low Vitamin D levels yield 6.82-fold higher risk of breast cancer (Lowe et al. Eur J Cancer, 2005)
  • Night shift work disrupts the circadian rhythm and therefore melatonin secretion. Studies have shown that melatonin deficiency helps to propagate cancer (Oncol Rep. 2012).
  • A diet high in non-healthy fats including meat and dairy. Interestingly, diets high in these foods are associated with lower melatonin levels. The importance of melatonin is also exemplified in studies that show that being completely blind is protective against breast cancer, since melatonin is continuously present (melatonin is secreted in darkness e.g. while sleeping).
  • Xenoestrogen exposures: High BPA and mono-ethyl phthalate exposure in postmenopausal women has shown that these women tend to have a higher breast density (Breast Cancer Res. 2013). However, it is important to note that Xenoestrogen exposure is not directly associated with a higher risk for breast cancer.
  • Breast implants are not directly associated with higher breast cancer rates, but tend to be an issue because they prevent breast cancer screening and therefore, make it more difficult to detect an early breast lesion.
  • Mental-emotional stress impacts physiological stress responses, creating an environment for cancer to prevail.

There is a higher risk if one or more of the following are present: Strong family history; Genetic mutation – BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation (see screening section below); Personal history of lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), invasive breast cancer or atypical hyperplasia; Dense breast tissue and/or radiation to breast or chest.

Screening is an imperative part of detecting and treating breast cancer. A Breast Cancer Screening Program categorizes individuals according to age and how often they should be screened.

  • Ages 50-69: Screening mammography every 2 years
  • Ages 40-49: Benefits to screen women less than 50 years of age is still unclear. Talk to your Calgary naturopathic doctor about risk and benefits of screening below the age of 50.
  • Ages greater than 70 years of age: patient decision of whether or not they would like to be screened, family history and other risk factors.

Apart from mammography, regular clinical breast exams by your naturopathic doctor can help to detect breast lumps at an earlier stage than at which you may be able to detect them yourself. If risk factors are present, tumor markers can be tested to check for tumor burden on the body. However, these high or low levels of tumor markers alone are NOT CONSIDERED DIAGNOSTIC for breast cancer. These tumor markers include: CA 15-3, CA 27.29 and CEA.

Genetic mutations are another way to screen for breast cancer and its probability, but may also be useful in prevention of disease. The mutations that are most likely to be associated with breast cancer are BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 gene mutations. 20-25% of hereditary breast cancers are due to the presence of mutations in BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes. 5-10% of all breast cancers are due to mutations in these 2 genes. These are genes that when mutated, can cause the production of proteins that allow proliferation of tumor-promoting proteins and help in carcinogenesis. If these mutations are inherited, then the risk of breast cancer in a woman increases dramatically. 15% of ovarian cancers are associated with these genetic mutations, as well.

Naturopathic Oncology Approach to Breast Cancer

Naturopathic Oncology treatments for breast cancer include specific intravenous therapies, oral supplementation, oxidative treatments including hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Conventional medical treatments that may or may not be offered to patients by their oncologist include surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and radiation.

In clinic intravenous treatments include, but are not limited to, high dose vitamin C and artesunate therapies. These two therapies function to break cancer cells by manipulating the metabolism within the tumor cells. Artesunate in particular, affects iron metabolism in cancer cells, preventing further proliferation and growth. Other oral supplementation and intravenous treatments help to increase the effectiveness of radiation and ease the side effects of chemotherapy, such as peripheral neuropathy.

Our naturopathic integrative oncology practice applies the right therapies at the right time.  For example, breast cancers can be hormone positive (estrogen and/or progesterone) as well as HER-2 receptor positive. Certain naturopathic therapies should not be administered with these hormonal therapy agents, since they can reduce the effectiveness of these treatments. At the Nardella clinic in Calgary, your Naturopath will know the appropriate treatment options to best meet your needs.