“You have breast cancer.” The statement itself brims with fear and despair. This diagnosis sets off a cascade of events that inevitably leads to the person feeling victimized and out of control of their health, their choices, and their lives.
Women are somehow led to believe that they don’t have any choices in what the next steps are. They are very rarely offered an explanation of why specific treatments are chosen for them. In some cases treatments are chosen and implemented before other relevant information has even been tested and assessed.
Every cancer cell is a part of ourselves. Our very own cells are not functioning as they were designed to. Let’s think for a minute – is it possible that our own body is attempting to teach us something? If so, what could that lesson be?
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer found in women of North America. Most breast cancer starts in the cells that line the ducts of the breast tissue. The cancerous cells can spread outside duct lining and move into the lymph nodes and it can also spread or metastasize to other tissues. Breast cancer can also occur in men.
Since the early 1990s, mammography has been used to screen women for breast cancer. Mammograms made early detection possible which led to an initial rise in incidences of breast cancer. It was thought that this rise in cases was due to earlier detection and/or new detection abilities. However, breast cancer incidences have steadily been increasing 0.5% every year since then up until the year 2000.
Treatments in Standard of Care
Standard of care treatment options consist of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy and other targeted therapies. The treatment used depends on the severity of the cancer, the tissue type, the biopsy results and if or how much the cancer has spread.
The conditions within and surrounding the cells of the body can be referred to as the terrain. The health of the terrain is directly proportional to the health of the cells, including cancer cells. It is responsible of the functionality of the cells individually, and, therefore, the tissues as a whole. The terrain can be tested and assessed for it’s health and vitality with specific, comprehensive blood work.
Factors effecting the Terrain in Breast Cancer
While there are numerous factors that can affect the terrain, or surrounding environment, some of the most commonly found patterns of dysfunction for breast cancer are issues with low vitamin D, poor metabolism, hormones, genes, mental/emotional health and toxicity.
Metabolism is the collection of biochemical events that controls how the body creates and uses energy within every cell. Since the cancer cell is highly glycolytic, sugar and sugar metabolism is a focus for any cancer, including breast cancer. Breast cancer cells have an affinity for glucose and insulin. High blood glucose occurs as a result of sugar and carbohydrate consumption. Glucose can also increase as a result of stress (fight or flight), medications, inflammation and emotional distress. Insulin is a hormone that rises as a result high glucose levels in the blood. Breast cancer cells have six times more receptors for insulin than healthy cells! All cancers have an affinity to glucose.
Breast cancer cells can have receptors for estrogen and progesterone which contributes to the growth and proliferation of the cancer cells. Usually breast cancer cells are tested for a positive or negative receptor status.
Approximately 80% of breast cancer cases involve estrogen as a driver. It is known that the longer a woman is exposed to hormones, the higher the risk of developing breast cancer. This should make us question the sensibility of using exogenous hormones like hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and birth control methods that use hormones. Hormone replacement therapy can raise a woman’s risk for breast cancer and other hormone-type cancers.
In 2002 the Women’s Health Initiative published the results of a large study that suggested a link between hormone replacement therapy and increased breast cancer risk. From 2002 to 2003, breast cancer incidences decreased by 7%. It is theorized that this drop is attributed to the reduction of the use of hormones replacement therapy.
There is a higher risk of developing breast cancer if the mother or sister have had breast cancer. The genetic piece of the cancer puzzle is the most researched of all the risk factors. While genes like BRCA1/2 are well known to increase the risk of developing breast cancer, they are far from the only genetic piece. BRCA1/2 are found in approximately 5% of cases. Another gene, PIK3CA is found in 20% of cases. Other genes like P53, MTHFR and HER2/neu can be tested for and can help guide treatment options. This is why it is beneficial to have genetic testing done. However, there are thousands of genes that are associated with cancer risk.
Epigenetics is the study and application of altering gene expression rather than altering the genetic code itself. Genes can have snps, or single nucleotide polymorphisms. This is a variation of the ‘normal’ gene type. Genes, and gene snps, are the blueprint of whatever the gene encodes. Lifestyle factors, nutrients/herbs and supplements can actually modify the expression of those genes, turning them off or on. This includes the ‘expression’ of cancer. For example, the expression of the PIK3CA gene is modified with a low carbohydrate/ketogenic diet.
The focus on research of genes and how they cause or drive cancer is important but we do need to put as much focus on other aspects that impact cancer risk. Inflammation, circadian rhythms, the microbiome, immunity and angiogenesis all contribute to the overall risk and progression of cancer. These are some of the additional terrain elements that can be tested and assessed based on the fundamentals of the metabolic approach as outlined the book The Metabolic Approach To Cancer by Dr. Nasha Winters ND, FABNO and Jess Higgins Kelly, MNT.
tens of thousands considered potentially carcinogenic or not yet tested. Toxicity is rarely tested or treated in the conventional treatment model. Some prevalent toxins that are particularly associated with breast cancer are cadmium, radiation, some medications, mercury, plastics/ BPA, pesticides, DDT, glyphosate, and radon.
Detoxification involves the process of taking a toxic substance, converting it to a safer form, and removing it from the body. There are a few phases of detoxification. In some people detoxification is slowed, or stunted. Sometimes it’s a deletion of, or combination of, gene snps that results in a person’s inability to detox safely or effectively. Other times the exposure to toxins is higher than the body’s ability to remove them. Regardless of what the mechanism is, it’s valuable to assess for toxicity and detoxification ability for every person with breast cancer.
Mental Health and Stress
A person’s mental health and wellbeing could very well be the biggest contributor to a breast cancer diagnosis as well as the largest obstacle to healing. It’s very common to hear a cancer survivor state that until they accepted and dealt with mental/emotional aspect of their lives, they were not able to heal from cancer.
Scientifically, we know that chronic stress results in long term elevated levels of inflammatory hormones. Eventually this can lead to chronic inflammation which is another important terrain element to address. This is accompanied with high blood pressure and high blood glucose and insulin. It’s not possible to reduce inflammation that is caused by stress with an anti-inflammatory drug or supplement.
What Can You Do?
Breast self-exams (BSE)
A good breast self exam every month about a week after menses is suggested by Dr. Neil McKinney Bsc, ND. Self-exams are not promoted in the modernized medical model since it’s been largely replaced with mammography.
Some experts believe that the 15% lower death rate is as a direct result of breast cancer screening. However, mammograms can show a false negative 30% of the time while at the same time causing injury to the breast tissue. Other experts believe that the mammogram itself is carcinogenic and has the potential to cause cancer in a benign tumor or non-cancering person.
Occasional ultrasounds and MRIs coupled with monthly breast self exams are better suited to breast health screening and monitoring. A newer test, SonaCine, is another alternative to mammography.
Metabolism: Food & Fasting
As mentioned above, an elevated glucose, insulin and inflammation are factors involved in all cancer types. A whole foods diet should consist primarily of low sugar vegetables and fruits, pasture-raised animal protein and good fats. Grains like wheat can create inflammation for three days after consumption.
Fasting can also be used as a very effective way to restore metabolic health and flexibility. Fasting impacts metabolism, hormones, genetics, emotional wellbeing and detoxification.
A great way of supporting hormones is to support detoxification and avoid exogenous exposure to synthetic hormones or hormone-like chemicals. Detoxification can include daily exercise, sweating and drinking water. Cruciferous vegetables, fibre, high quality fats and magnesium rich foods are necessary to promote balance between the various hormones.
It’s not possible to live in a toxic soup and be healthy. So, the first step is to remove either the toxins from your world or remove yourself from the toxic environment. Take time to educate yourselves about how to live in a clean environment. Whatever we apply to our skin, eat or drink, breathe or think has to be as clean and positive as possible. Yes, even thoughts can be toxic! It is not recommended to use advanced detoxification protocols if the person has an active cancer.
Mental Health & Stress
Let’s speak about fear. Patients, family members, practitioners and doctors can all feel out of control and fearful at times. This is natural and understandable. However, Christians are counselled to surrender our fears to God and live in the knowledge that He, as the ultimate Healer, is in control of all circumstances.
Mental health and stress is one of the terrain elements to address and can be a pivotal part of any treatment or healing process. The person living with cancer needs to recognize when there are some events of her past or present that need to be addressed. Recognition and acknowledgment are the start of this process.
Finding ways to manage stressors in your life will result in an overall feeling of well-being even within cancer diagnosis and treatment. Do something you love daily. Enjoy nature. Meditate and pray. Practice gratefulness. Breathe.
For the women who have had breast cancer in the past or for those who are at high risk of developing breast cancer, you can take additional measures to evaluate the health of your terrain a few times a year. You can have comprehensive labs done that assess your metabolic flexibility, inflammation, immunity and Vitamin D levels. In addition to to breast self-exams monthly, you can schedule an MRI (dye-free) or SonaCine test yearly.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you will want to have a metabolically trained practitioner on your care team. You will be cared for with monthly or bimonthly checkins for proper testing and assessment throughout your cancer journey. This monthly terrain assessment is used to guide treatment recommendations and changes.
Lessons of Breast Cancer
In the book, The Body Says No, Gabor Mate provides transformative insights into how disease can be the body’s way of saying no to what the mind cannot, or will not, acknowledge. Cancer can teach us lessons of what we did not know or acknowledge. It’s teaching style is harsh and unrelenting. It uses our fear of mortality as the proverbial failed grade.
My perspective of cancer as a teacher does by no means minimize the magnitude and complexity of breast cancer. There are, however, great lessons we can learn about our own selves when we receive a breast cancer diagnosis. I think those lessons are very personal and there will be different lessons for every person.
It is my hope that learning the lessons of breast cancer will guide us all to understand how to prevent or minimize risk of a cancer developing. The same lessons will offer guidance to what therapies and treatments are suited and when. And, most of all, these same lessons will reveal stories of ourselves, what needs to be brought out, what needs to be spoken, what needs to change and what needs to be surrendered to God who designed us.