To Treat Breast Cancer, Treat the Whole Person.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may be shocked and overwhelmed, and have no idea where to start with breast cancer treatment. An integrated approach may be the best strategy to beat cancer. That means, in addition to chemo, radiation, and/or surgery, there are many other ways to optimize your health so that your body can effectively fight cancer. These would include diet and nutrition, detoxification, hormone balance, acupuncture, stress reduction techniques, botanical medicine, and other treatment modalities. Cancers are caused by multiple genetic and environmental factors, as well as other yet undiscovered factors. That’s why a comprehensive approach to breast cancer should aim for whole-body health and healing, not only isolating and destroying cancer cells. Read below for the most important areas to test and address if you are ready to get rid of, or prevent, breast cancer.
Optimize Breast Health and Decrease Cancer Risk by Focusing on These Areas of Health
Balance Hormones and Improve Estrogen Metabolism
It is important to look for overall hormonal imbalances that could be contributing to a hormone-sensitive cancer or other types of diseases. Imbalances in estrogen have been found in the following conditions: 2-13
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Uterine cancers, including endometrial
- Ovarian cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Head and neck cancers
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Uterine fibroids
- Menopausal symptoms
- Premenstrual syndrome
Excess hormones can be particularly undesirable in a woman with breast cancer. In addition to determining total levels of hormones, how effectively a person metabolizes and eliminates hormones gives information about her risk of developing certain cancers.
Estrogen is metabolized into various similar estrogen substances on its way out of the body. One estrogen metabolite, 16alpha-hydroxyestrone, can initiate tumors and cancer-like cells. On the other hand, a different estrogen metabolite, 2-hydroxyestrone, blocks cancer-like cell behavior and inhibits tumor growth. All of this is to say that women want more 2-hydroxyestrone and less 16alpha-hydroxyestrone to prevent cancer. Research shows that the 2/16 ratio could be important in decreasing cancer risk and the ratio can be improved by eating a diet high in cruciferous vegetables.
The Estrogen Metabolism Assessment from Genova Diagnostics measures how well a woman’s body is detoxifying and getting rid of estrogen. The Urine Hormones and Estrogen Metabolites from ZRT Laboratory is an overall hormone wellness test, measuring a large panel of hormones and estrogen metabolites.
Treatments that Integrative and Functional Medical Doctors Use to Improve Estrogen Metabolism:
- Decrease coffee consumption and smoking
- Achieve a healthy body weight
- Supplement with indole-3-carbinol (I3C) or di-indolemethane (DIM)
- Increase cruciferous vegetables including: broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts
- Supplement with dried organic Brussels sprouts and kale
- Increase ground flax seed
- Increase intake of fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids)
- Increase fruit and vegetable intake
- Increase antioxidants in foods or supplements
- Ensure adequate estrogen detoxification and biotransformation:
- Sulfur-rich compounds such as N-acetyl cysteine, calcium D-glucarate and methyl donors such as s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin B6
- Ensure effective GI elimination:
- Use 4R Protocol
- Increase fiber, fruits, and vegetables
- Consume a low-allergen diet
Squelch Oxidative Stress
We live and die by oxygen. Unfortunately, the very life-giving stuff that we depend on can be our undoing. Oxidative stress, which occurs when there are too many unstable oxygen molecules bumping around, can damage cells, tissues, organ systems, and lead to cancer, along with a long list of other diseases. In someone who has cancer or who wants to prevent cancer, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to oxidative stress. That means eating a diet high in antioxidant-containing fruits and vegetables. It also means taking antioxidant supplements such as vitamin C, lipoic acid, and glutathione precursors. There are some great tests out there for oxidative stress including 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine, F2-isoprostanes, or lipid peroxides. Check out your levels and follow-up to make sure your dietary and supplement changes are lowering oxidative stress and its harmful consequences.
Make Gut Health a Priority
When a molecule of estrogen has fulfilled its duty in the body it is normally metabolized by the liver and excreted from the body in the feces or urine. However, if a woman has GI dysbiosis (overgrowth of undesirable organisms), there can be problems clearing the used estrogen. There are even certain gut bugs that can change the estrogen so that it can reenter circulation, potentially doing damage. Poor gut health may show telltale symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, loose stools, bloating, heartburn, abdominal or stomach pain, but it also may show no symptoms.
Identify and treat GI microbial balance with the GI-MAP stool test from Diagnostic Solutions Laboratory. It measures bacteria, pathogens, parasites, and fungi that might be harming gut health or dragging down the immune system. Since we often say to “treat the gut first,” this test is a great place to start when preventing or treating cancer. It also includes markers of immune health, inflammation, and digestion.
Other tests that can be used to optimize gut health are the Organix Dysbiosis Profile or a SIBO test. These tests look at the small intestine to see if bacteria are growing in high numbers and harming healthy function. Finally, some people have constipation, bloating, or diarrhea due to hidden food sensitivities. Food Sensitivity tests can help detect and eliminate foods that may be aggravating the immune system and wearing it down.
Get Rid of Harmful Toxins
Toxins can harm our DNA and can even make good cells go bad. The liver has to help the body get rid of many toxins; both the internal toxins (like estrogen after it has been used by the body) and external toxins (like pesticides or heavy metals). For this reason, in a woman with breast cancer, it is important to identify and reduce toxic exposures and to make sure her liver is in good working order. Test yourself and investigate and eliminate your toxic exposures to heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, and solvents.
Use Healthy Fats to Cool Off Inflammation
Cancer and inflammation go hand in hand. Therefore, it is helpful to create an anti-inflammatory environment in the body by using omega-3 fatty acids, or high-quality fish oil supplements. Lots of arachidonic acid, which is very high in the standard American diet, would be undesirable in a woman at risk of breast cancer, as it can encourage cancer growth.
Know Your Genetic Blueprints
A family history of breast cancer can increase a woman’s risk factor for developing breast cancer. BRCA is the gene that is most widely studied. It’s worth knowing your genetic predisposition. Detoxification genes, such as cytochrome p450 1B1 (CYP1B1), can impact a woman’s clearance of harmful chemicals and can increase her risk for developing breast cancer. In one study, women taking hormone therapy with a polymorphism in CYP1B1 had twice the risk of developing breast cancer compared to other women on hormone replacement therapy.14 We can’t change our genetics but we can make diet, nutrition, and lifestyle changes that encourage our genes to behave healthfully.
To Treat Breast Cancer, Treat the Whole Person.
If breast cancer runs in your family or if you have recently been diagnosed, remember that there are many evidence-based steps you can take to boost your overall health so that cancer doesn’t grow easily in your body. Overall, these tests can help identify the nutritional, metabolic, or toxic challenges a person has and help restore balance and fortify the body. In addition to conventional treatments, addressing a woman’s whole-body health is essential when preventing, treating, or surviving breast cancer.
You may want to check out Dr. Barbara MacDonald’s book, The Breast Cancer Companion
Originally published in October 2009; this article was updated October 2020.
- D.C. Basic Information About Breast Cancer. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/index.htm. Accessed Oct 14, 2020.
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- Rylander-Rudqvist T, Wedren S, Granath F, et al. Cytochrome P450 1B1 gene polymorphisms and postmenopausal breast cancer risk. Sep 2003;24(9):1533-1539.
Cass Nelson-Dooley, MS, is a researcher, author, educator, and laboratory consultant. She studied medicinal plants in the rain forests of Panama as a Fulbright Scholar and then launched a career in science and natural medicine. Early on, she studied ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, and drug discovery at the University of Georgia and AptoTec, Inc. She joined innovators at Metametrix Clinical Laboratory as a medical education consultant helping clinicians use integrative and functional laboratory results in clinical practice. She owns Health First Consulting, LLC, a medical communications company with the mission to improve human health using the written word. Ms. Nelson-Dooley is an oral microbiome expert and author of Heal Your Oral Microbiome. She was a contributing author in Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine and Case Studies in Integrative and Functional Medicine. She has published case studies, book chapters, and journal articles about the oral microbiome, natural medicine, nutrition, laboratory testing, obesity, and osteoporosis.