August 4, 2006 – my friend, Tina died of breast cancer. I begin with this sad news to illustrate that we have all been touched personally by cancer. That is why cancer patients seek and deserve to have the best of modern medicine and the best of natural healing. In fact, I am often asked how I happened to transition from practicing conventional OB/GYN to discovering natural integrative medicine and medical acupuncture.
My opportunity for this change occurred when Sheila Cluff, the founder and owner of The Oaks Destination Spa in Ojai presented pathways for me which opened my mind. As we traveled throughout the world, I observed and experienced the natural healing aspects of spas. For instance, I was surprised to learn that a spa physician requires one more year of training after completing post-graduate specialty training. I was also able to learn from the experiences of my friends and family. My sister-in-law and my dear friend, Pat Norling, who developed breast cancer, taught me those with the disease and those without wanted credible information from their physicians on complementary alternative medicine (CAM). As her advocate I witnessed that her array of physicians did not have the answers for her. They did not even respect the question.
After Pat died, I vowed I would do everything I could to change that. Along with several colleagues of mine at the University of Minnesota we incorporated nutrition, herbal medicine, and mind-body therapies into the core curriculum of the medical school. Today, over 75 medical schools feature courses in CAM. We also established the first graduate minor degree in CAM in the U.S., developed a Mind Body Spirit Clinic where we work closely with faculty and we fully integrated healing therapies into a large tertiary care hospital that has 40,000 admissions each year.
I testified in front of the White House Commission on Complementary Alternative Medicine Policy about the need for additional funding for research in this field and the critical need for credible information and responsible physician practices. The third and most vital part of my transition was my decision to become educated, trained, and board-certified in these areas because individuals deserve to have the best of both worlds and to be partners in their own healing.
Prevention is more than early detection. Early detection is finding something on a mammogram or thermography. The disease is already there.
Prevention for cancer and any other disease requires good nutrition, exercise, and stress management. It is also important to test for underlying causes of inflammation. Inflammation initiates or exacerbates chronic illnesses including cancer. Specialty tests can determine hidden sources of inflammation. Low levels of Vitamin D increase the risk of cancer. Cholesterol below 160 mg double the risk of cancer.
Results of a study from George Washington University Medical Center, Washington, DC show that the use of Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) in breast cancer patients ranges between 48 percent and 70 percent in the U.S. The most commonly used modalities included dietary supplements, mind-body approaches and acupuncture. The reasons cited for using CAM were to boost the immune system, improve the quality of life, prevent re occurrence of cancer, provide control over their life, support breast cancer treatment, and relieve the side effects of conventional treatment.
Several studies reported favorable results including improved survival, better pain control, reduced anxiety, improvement in coping strategies and significant efficacy in treating nausea and vomiting. The reported significance of the results was that, “CAM is a growing field in health care and particularly among breast cancer patients. Knowledge of CAM by physicians, especially oncologist, is necessary.”
- Breast cancer survival rate is 86 percent. If caught in its early-stages, the number rises to 97 percent.
- Most women with breast cancer (75 to 80 percent) do not have a family history.
- Breast cancer, which is the most commonly occurring malignancy in women, accounts for 32 percent of all cancers.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer occurs when cancer cells clog the lymphatic vessels in the skin overlying the breast. The blockage in the lymphatic vessels causes the red, swollen, and dimpled skin that’s a classic sign of the disease.
We are all familiar with the fact that breast cancer is usually first detected as a palpable mass or as a mammogram abnormality. However, diagnosing inflammatory breast cancer can prove to be difficult. Often no lump can be felt, and the area of concern may not show up on a mammogram. Additionally, the signs and symptoms can easily be mistaken for a breast infection (mastitis). What’s worse, inflammatory breast cancer grows rapidly. In fact, changes can become apparent in a matter of days to a few weeks because and unlike other types of breast cancer, you probably won’t develop a distinct lump. Instead, you might notice an area of thickness or a feeling of heaviness in one of your breasts as inflammatory breast cancer tends to develop as a sheet rather than a lump or tumor.
Signs and Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer Include:
- A breast that appears red, purple, pink or bruised
- A tender, firm and enlarged breast
- A warm feeling in the breast
- Itching of the breast
- Pain (10 percent of the time)
- Ridged or dimpled skin texture, similar to an orange peel
- Thickened areas of skin
- Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm, above or below the collarbone
- Flattening or retraction of the nipple
- Swollen or crusted skin on the nipple
- Changes in color of the skin around the nipple (areola)
It’s easy to confuse the signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer with those of a breast infection (mastitis). However, breast infections occur most often in young women who are breast-feeding, cause a fever and are easily treated with antibiotics. On the contrary, inflammatory breast cancer doesn’t typically cause a fever, nor does it respond to antibiotics.
Because inflammatory breast cancer progresses rapidly, by the time most women seek medical advice, the cancer is already quite advanced. If you notice any of the signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer, see your doctor right away.
Being diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer is terrifying for a lot of women. Because it’s a disease associated with a high mortality rate, you might wonder about your chances for long-term survival. This is a perfectly rational fear, but do not lose hope. Know that advances in treatment have improved survival rates for women with inflammatory breast cancer in recent years.
- Inflammatory breast cancer is an uncommon type of breast cancer.
- This disease occurs when cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast, causing it to become red, swollen, and warm.
- Inflammatory breast cancer usually grows rapidly and often spreads to other parts of the body.
- Treatment usually starts with chemotherapy, generally followed by surgery and/or radiation.
- Natural approaches to health and healing can be used in combination with conventional medicine for support and relief of symptoms.
Numerous studies published in mainstream medical journals show the impact lifestyle and the environment have on the increased risk of breast cancer. At a recent course at Scripps, Dr Christine Horner presented the evidenced-based literature on natural approaches to protect against and fight breast cancer. Here are a few of her key points.
- Exercise 30 minutes at least three times a week to decrease your breast cancer risk by 30 to 50 percent.
- Consume plenty of fresh, organic plant foods.
- Consider using an Indole-3 Carbinol (DIM) supplement as this can also decrease the risk of breast cancer by up to 40 percent. This element is also found in many cruciferous vegetables including:
* Brussels Sprouts
- Drink green tea as it contains a high level of antioxidants.
- Incorporate Omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold water fish) into your diet.
- Decrease your stress level.Check your Vitamin D level. Recommended therapeutic range is 60ng/dl. Supplement with Vitamin D as indicated.
- Consider nutrient intravenous therapy. Research shows large doses of IV Vitamin C is toxic to cancer cells and not harmful to normal cells.
A useful tool is meditation, which has been associated with enhanced quality of life and decreased stress symptoms in breast cancer patients. Studies have also shown a shift in immune profiles to more normal levels. Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University Of Texas Anderson Cancer Center in Houston reported that after one week of yoga, breast cancer patients had significantly improved physical function and general health and experienced significantly less sleep-related daytime dysfunction compared to the control group.
Furthermore, according to Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine, imagery is one of the most powerful tools a woman can use to help combat cancer. If you are undertaking an inner voyage of healing, she says it is useful to become acquainted with the inner language of imagery. She also recommends women with cancer attempt to release their inner emotions through writing their own poetry
Rest assured that there are a growing number of practitioners who recognize that breast cancer patients need to be seen, cared for, and treated as a whole person. So make a decision to incorporate conventional medicine and integrative medicine into your daily health regimen to help protect against afflictions as devastating as breast cancer. Choice is empowerment and it supports hope so choose to never give up.