Breast cancer is an epidemic. In the United States, 300,000 women are diagnosed each year, of which about 40,000 die from the disease. Approximately 15% of breast cancer patients are diagnosed at the premalignant stage (non-invasive) and their survival rate is very high. Even at the invasive stage, chances of recovery are higher as the size of the tumor diagnosed is smaller and shows no metastasis to nodes or blood vessels. Therefore, early diagnosis is paramount.
Conventional Breast Cancer Treatment
a. Diagnosis and Characterization
Breast cancer treatment is determined based on the stage of the disease upon diagnosis: size of breast lumps, metastasis to nodes, metastases in other organs. Nowadays, biological and genetic indicators are used to help determine the appropriate treatments for each patient individually.
A tumor removed during biopsy or surgery is tested for hormone receptors, which determine whether the cancer cells will be sensitive to hormone therapy. In addition, HER2 receptors are also examined, as these determine whether traditional treatment may be supplemented by biological medications that are only effective when such a receptor is present.
Additionally, cancer cells are also tested for genetic markers such as VEGF, EGFR and others, which allow for special biological medications to be matched for specific patients.
b. Initial Treatment Following Breast Cancer Diagnosis
During the early stages of the disease, a genomic test called Oncotype may be performed. This test provides information about whether surgical intervention is sufficient for patients at this stage or if preventive treatment through chemotherapy is required.
The most effective treatment is surgery. A total or partial mastectomy may be performed. Partial mastectomy is carried out only on the area affected by the tumor and requires additional radiation in order to reduce the risk of local recurrence.
During surgery, a lymph node is removed from the axilla to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Cancer cells spreading to the lymph nodes is an indicator for greater risk of recurrence and requires chemotherapy in addition to surgical treatment.
c. Preventive Treatment of Breast Cancer
Patients with various indicators suggesting a high chance of recurrence are administered post-operative preventive treatment through chemotherapy (adjuvant therapy).
Women with large tumors (5cm and greater in diameter) are administered chemotherapy before surgery in order to reduce the size of the tumor and allow for better surgery (neoadjuvant therapy).
Patients with hormone receptors will receive preventive treatment using hormone pills for at least 5 years after surgery. Patients who are HER2-positive will also receive special medication such as Herceptin in addition to chemotherapy.
d. Metastatic Breast Cancer and Treatment
When there is evidence of breast cancer metastases in another organ this means that the cancer cells have entered the blood stream and may appear anywhere in the body: lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones, brain and more.
Therefore, treatment becomes systemic and not local. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, biological medications, immunotherapy and other treatments.
Complementary – Integrative Therapy of Breast Cancer
In order to improve the chance of recovering from breast cancer, it is recommended to combine alternative cancer treatments, such as complementary – integrative cancer treatments with the conventional treatments.
a. Diet for Cancer Patients
Many medical studies from the biggest medical centers around the world prove that proper diet is invaluable when treating breast cancer. Extensive long-term research shows that maintaining a low-fat diet may reduce the risk of recurrence by over 20% and extend life expectancy. In addition, breast cancer patients must avoid monosaccharides such as glucose. A diet rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, cruciferous vegetables and green tea is recommended. You can read more about diet for cancer patients by clicking here.
b. Physical Activity
Other medical studies show that women with breast cancer who maintained a lifestyle of intense physical activity survived more than women with breast cancer who did not perform any physical activity. Physical activity also reduced the risk of recurrence. The differences are at significant rates of 20% and more.
c. Food Supplements for Breast Cancer Patients
Many food supplements have been found to be effective and important as preventive breast cancer treatment and as a treatment for breast cancer after diagnosis. Food supplements are active against the disease itself, strengthening the immune system and preventing the side-effects of conventional therapy administered to patients.
Among the supplements used extensively in cases of breast cancer are: genistein, CoQ10, medicinal mushrooms, resveratrol, cat’s claw, Artemisia, vitamins C, D and E, selenium, melatonin, turmeric and more.
Research published recently by Vanderbilt University in the United States shows that breast cancer patients who used antioxidant food supplements had a 22% lower risk of recurrence than similar patients who did not take these food supplements.
Breast cancer treatment should include all possible treatment options in order to achieve optimal results.