Following radiation therapy, it is common for premenopausal women with estrogen receptor positive tumors to begin therapy with tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is known as a selective estrogen receptor blocker. This means that tamoxifen will block estrogen from attaching to receptors on breast cells. By blocking estrogen’s attachment to breast cells, the thinking is that normal breast cells will be less likely to develop into cancerous cells.
While studies have shown positive benefits for women taking tamoxifen, there are also potential problems with its use. Women taking tamoxifen, especially for longer than five years, have an increased incidence of two different types of uterine cancers, stroke, and heart attacks, not to mention the possibility of menopausal-like symptoms.
As a result, Sandy and I are researching as much as possible to determine if it is in her best interest to take tamoxifen. Currently, our thinking is that she may be able to get the positive benefits of tamoxifen therapy while reducing the risk of side effects through the simultaneous use of nutritional supplements, many of which also have estrogen blocking activity without the side effects of tamoxifen.
Lesson #1-If you need to take tamoxifen to reduce your chance of developing recurrent breast cancer, is critical to take supplements to maximize the effectiveness of tamoxifen, while also reducing its side effects (a future blog will outline supplements which can do this.)
Lesson #2-As so often occurs with conventional pharmaceutical companies, there’s a big push now among some oncologist to prescribe tamoxifen to every woman, especially those with early cancerous breast lesions (DCIS,) with the idea that tamoxifen therapy may prevent breast cancer. This has never been proven and in my opinion is another example of pharmaceutical companies wanting to make money by prescribing a medication for the entire population, even though most people will never benefit from its use. And when you consider that natural supplements have all the positive benefits of tamoxifen without any of side effects, it makes more sense to use these supplements rather than increase your medical costs and risk serious problems through the use of non-necessary medications.
Coming Soon- Blog #9-Understanding the Importance of Nutrition
The diagnosis of any kind of cancer, especially breast cancer, is pretty scary. Immediately you start to question whether or not you’re going to die and how much time you have left to live. Fortunately, with early-stage breast cancer, you do have some time to make decisions about your health care.
One of the decisions you will need to make is whether or not you will choose chemotherapy as part of your treatment. While many women, due to a fear of cancer, choose to follow whatever the doctor says and subject themselves to a number of chemotherapy drugs (all that have side effects including some serious ones,) the reality is that some women with breast cancer don’t need chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, there is no way to predict 100% of the time which women would benefit from chemotherapy and which women do not need it. Fortunately, a new test called the Oncotype DX can make your decision easier. This test looks at each woman’s unique genetic tumor characteristics (the tumor is submitted following surgical removal.) Based upon the genetic markers of your tumor, the test does its best to predict whether or not you would receive substantial benefit from chemotherapy. In my wife’s case, since her tumor type was considered less aggressive, the benefits of chemotherapy were not substantial enough for her to make the decision to take chemotherapy.
The nice thing about this test is that it can save women from unnecessary chemotherapy. Unnecessary chemotherapy adds to the cost of treatment and has side effects including an increased risk of additional cancer in the future.
The interesting thing about chemotherapy is that while it is designed to kill any cells that may have escaped the primary tumor site (the breast,) there is no guarantee that it will work or is needed. If there are no cancer cells remaining after surgical removal, then chemotherapy is totally worthless and potentially harmful. If there are cancer cells that have left the breast and spread to other sites in the body, there is no guarantee that chemotherapy will kill the cells as chemotherapy is not 100% effective.
In general, chemotherapy reduces the risk of cancer growing and spreading by 30 to 50%. In other words, if a woman’s risk of future breast cancer (after the diagnosis of breast cancer) is 10%, then chemotherapy would lower her risk of future breast cancer to only 5 to 7%. In my wife’s case, that small difference was not enough to convince her to ravage her body with unnecessary chemotherapy, a decision with which her oncologists concurred. In place of chemotherapy,
Sandy is going to use a number of nutritional supplements that have been clinically proven to kill cancer cells. Her hope is that these supplements will be as effective if not more effective than using chemotherapy which she may not need. Because supplementation is safe and without side effects, she will get all the benefits from their use without any negative effects.
Cancer therapy is very much an individual and personal decision. There is often not a “right” or “wrong” decision, and there are no guarantees or way to predict the future. Blindly following a doctor’s advice is no guarantee of success. Instead, YOU must use all the tools and information at your disposal to make the choice that is RIGHT for YOU.
Lesson # 1: Not everyone with breast cancer needs chemotherapy. Many women fall into a gray area where you will have to make a decision based on consultation with your oncologist. The Oncotype DX test can help make your decision easier.
Coming Soon- Blog #8 Hormonal Therapy
Last week there were numerous reports about the latest in the vaccine/autism debate. As you probably know, Dr. AJ Wakefield published a study in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1998. In his study, he reportedly found that the onset of behavioral symptoms (similar to those commonly seen autistic children) may have been caused by the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination in eight of the twelve children he studied. His findings were supposedly based upon intestinal biopsies of the affected children which showed measles virus in the biopsies following vaccination.
Now it appears that he may have fraudulently altered the data for financial gain.
So what exactly does this mean? Does it mean that vaccines don’t cause autism? Does it mean that parents, many of whom had stopped vaccinating their children based upon the study, can now safely vaccinate their children without any regard for vaccine side effects?
Unfortunately a closer examination of the vaccine/autism link doesn’t quite reach that same conclusion. While vaccine proponents have been in the news media night and day urging parents to begin vaccinating their children (supposedly because this latest revelation “proves” that vaccines don’t cause autism,) I haven’t seen any thoughts from folks on the other side of the debate (and I don’t expect to, since the media tends to view people who choose a more natural approach to health as “kooks.”)
No sane naturopathic/integrative medical doctor or veterinarian would ever state (or to my knowledge has stated) that vaccines are the sole cause of autism and that no person or pet should ever receive a vaccine.
Vaccines can and do save lives. When used judiciously and properly, they can be a very effective tool against minimizing the spread of infectious diseases. There is no question that vaccines have reduced the frequency of many infectious childhood and pet diseases.
I remember when parvo virus first discovered in the mid-to-late 1970s. Not a day went by that I didn’t see puppies literally dropping over dead due to this horrible new disease. Once a vaccine was developed, puppies dying from parvovirus became a very rare event. Today, it’s very rare I even see a puppy infected with parvovirus much less sick or dying from it.
However, to say that vaccines do not cause side effects (one of which might be autism) would be a foolish thing to say. Additionally, to say that parents don’t have the right to decide if and when and how their children should be vaccinated is also foolish thing to say.
One of the concerns among pediatricians and parents who choose to vaccinate their children is that unvaccinated children are more likely to develop infectious diseases. Somehow they equate the possibility of a higher incidence of disease in unvaccinated children with a greater threat to their own children. Logic however, tells us something different. If the majority of individuals in a given population are vaccinated, then that population is considered immune from the disease, or at least immune from an epidemic of the disease. It doesn’t matter if a few unvaccinated individuals contract the disease as vaccinated individuals are considered protected (this assumes that vaccines are 100% percent effective, which they are not. This also assumes that vaccines prevent infection, when in fact many vaccines allow the vaccinated individuals to become infected but not to suffer from a serious bout of the infection.) Therefore, if my child is vaccinated against a certain disease, it really shouldn’t matter if another child that may not be vaccinated interacts with my child, as my child is considered protected from the disease. The main threat should be to the unvaccinated child catching a disease, rather than my vaccinated child catching a disease.
Most naturopathic/integrative doctors believe that vaccines may cause or contribute to the development of autism or similar problems in a select few predisposed children. Common sense tells us that if I have a child who is normal, and then the child receives a vaccine, and then develops autism within a few days of receiving the vaccine, there is certainly a strong possibility that the vaccine in some unfortunate way negatively interacted with my child’s immune/nervous systems. You don’t have to be a genius to come to this conclusion, only a casual observer.
So here’s my take on all of this.
First, vaccines are unlikely to cause autism in most children who receive them.
Second, they may cause autism in certain individuals (the exact reason is not known, but it could be due to children whose immune systems react in an adverse way to the vaccine, or who may not be able to detoxify/methylate the vaccine for its components.)
Third, we really should decrease how many vaccines are given at each visit to the pediatrician or veterinarian. There is simply no reason or scientific justification for loading up a patient who has an immature immune system and developing nervous system with numerous vaccines, some of which may not be needed at all or at least until later in life.
Developing sound immunization schedules, working with concerned parents, and realizing that not every individual in a given population needs to be immunized in order to consider a population immune to disease is the most logical way to minimize infectious diseases and side effects that may result from vaccinations, including autism.
Depending upon your stage of breast cancer and which surgical decision you make, you may or may not need localized radiation therapy to the breast. For women who choose lumpectomy rather than mastectomy, radiation therapy is recommended to kill any cancerous or precancerous cells that may remain behind.
For the most part, radiation therapy is no big deal for the patient. It takes a few minutes a day, five days a week, for five weeks, and then it’s all over. In most cases there are no side effects. However, radiation can burn tissue, and a slight burning (similar to a sun burn) or chafing of the skin of the breast may occur. This can usually be prevented or treated by daily application of aloe vera gel, Traumeel gel or ointment, or something similar. This topical therapy must be washed off prior to the next radiation treatment but can then be applied immediately once the treatment session has ended.
While radiation therapy can be very effective postoperatively, it is not without potential harm. Radiation damages the DNA of all cells, not just cancerous cells. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the radiation killing cancerous cells and doing minimal damage to the normal surrounding breast tissue, supplementation with antioxidants including curcumin and quercetin are very important. Keep in mind that most conventional radiation doctors will not approve your decision to use these antioxidant supplements during radiation therapy. Their belief is that because radiation damages DNA by causing oxidation, these antioxidants would make no sense and would potentially make your radiation therapy less effective. However, large amounts of research have shown the exact opposite. Using properly selected antioxidants such as the ones I’ve mentioned have been proven to improve radiation kill to malignant cells while minimizing damage to surrounding normal cells. While I never recommend withholding information from your doctor, be aware that if you choose to follow a naturopathic approach as I have outlined, your doctor may be totally opposed to this and refuse to treat you. The decision is ultimately yours.
Based upon my own personal experience treating many patients, consultations with several naturopathic physicians, and a large amount of research substantiating the benefits of using properly selected antioxidants during radiation therapy, Sandy agreed with my advice (and the advice of her naturopathic doctors) and used the antioxidants we had prescribed.
Lesson #1: Properly chosen antioxidants will maximize the ability of radiation to kill cancerous cells while decreasing the harm radiation therapy can do to normal cells
Coming soon-Blog #7- Understanding Your Chemotherapy Decisions
For many women with breast cancer, there is good news:YOU get to decide which type of surgical procedure you want. Numerous studies have shown that for most women with early-stage breast cancer, a lumpectomy (removal of the tumor and a small amount of normal surrounding tissue) plus radiation therapy is as effective as mastectomy. The choice is really more of a personal choice than a medical decision. In Sandy’s case she wanted to preserve her breast so she chose lumpectomy plus radiation. In her case, recovery was quick and there were no postoperative complications or issues. With any kind of surgery there is always the issue of a postoperative scar. Time will usually make most scars disappear or at least become smaller. Topical therapy with cold laser light or natural products such as Traumeel gel or ointment (or Vitamin E gel, aloe vera gel, or a corticosteroid cream) may also help.
Lesson #1: YOU can usually decide which type of surgery is best for you
Note: Some women are concerned about the possibility of breast cancer cells spreading as a result of surgery, and this is a real concern. Any amount of handling or trauma of the cancerous tumor can release cancer cells.
To minimize the chance of cancer cell spread, Sandy began taking a supplement called modified citrus pectin (MCP.) Surgery increases the risk of metastasis by enhancing cancer cell adhesion. Cancer cells that break away from the primary tumor utilize adhesion (sticking to other cells) to form metastases in distant organs. In order to cause harm or death, cancer cells must be able to clump together and form tumors that can expand and grow (it is unlikely that a single cancer cell will form a metastatic tumor.) Cancer cells use adhesion molecules (especially galectin-3) to facilitate their ability to clump together. Present on the surface of cancer cells, these molecules allow free-floating cancer cells to adhere to each other. Cancer cells circulating in the blood also use galectin-3 surface adhesion molecules to latch onto the lining of blood vessels, which is an essential step for the process of metastasis. MCP may help fight certain cancers by binding with galectin-3 to help decrease cancer cell aggregation, adhesion, and metastasis. Taking MCP prior to, at the time of, and following surgery can help reduce the spread of cancer cells that consistently occurs when tumors are manipulated.
Sandy began her MCP a few days before surgery and will continue it for at least the next year.
Four weeks following surgery, she will begin her radiation therapy.
Coming soon-Blog #6-Understanding Your Radiation Therapy Decisions
My fellow radio show host Mark Levin had to say goodbye to another wonderful dog over the Christmas holidays. His special pet, Griffin, was adopted by Mark when Griffin was already an older dog around the age of 11 years old. At the time, Griffin came to Mark with a number of health problems. Fortunately, Mark is a big fan of adopting rescue dogs and saw fit to give this special creature a wonderful home. As is so common in older dogs, as Griffin aged he developed irreversible kidney failure. Despite treatment, Mark had to make the difficult decision for euthanasia shortly before Christmas. Our thoughts are with you Mark during this difficult time.