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I am delighted to write a foreword for this pioneering book on breast cancer. These wonderful essays span the entire range of options from conventional to alternative. Each author has made profound contributions to the medical community, and the expertise and experience they share in this book may help provide you with new hope and new choices.
They address not only the physical but also the psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of curing and healing, suffering and transformation. Indeed, this book embodies an integrative approach that is both wise and far-reaching. Each contributor offers a different voice and point of view. Not all may be useful to you, and not all may ultimately be proved correct, but I hope you find them to be as interesting as I have.
Anyone who is faced with a life-threatening illness such as breast cancer has a natural tendency to want to get as much information and to do everything possible to get better. It is becoming increasingly apparent that while traditional Western, allopathic medicine (primarily chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery) offers much value and hope to people with breast cancer, many other options are also available. All systems of healing have limitations.
The problem is making sense of these myriad choices, which can feel especially overwhelming when a person is ill and in emotional and spiritual turmoil. Reading this book is like having a wise friend by your side.
I am a scientist as well as a clinician because I believe in the power of science to help sort out conflicting claims and to distinguish fact from fancy, what sounds plausible from what is real, what works and what doesn't, for whom, and under what circumstances.
Indeed, that is the whole point of science. As Tom Cruise playing Jerry Maguire might say if he were a scientist, "Show me the data!" The peer-reviewed scientific process is about people challenging each other to demonstrate scientific evidence, not just their opinions or beliefs, to support their positions. Dr. Denis Burkit once wrote, "Not everything that counts can be counted" — and not everything meaningful is measurable, but much is.
The question is not "Should Americans seek out alternative medicine practitioners?" because so many already are. Although there is relatively little hard scientific evidence proving the value of most alternative medicine approaches, several studies have revealed that as much money is spent out of pocket for complementary or alternative medicine as for traditional physicians' services. In most cases, these decisions are being made with inadequate scientific information to make informed and intelligent choices.
The editors of The New England Journal of Medicine stated, "There cannot be two kinds of medicine — conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work. Once a treatment has been tested rigorously, it no longer matters whether it was considered alternative at the outset. If it is found to be reasonably safe and effective, it will be accepted."
But this presumes that funding is available to rigorously test complementary medicine. Also, conventional approaches such as drugs and surgery are not always held to the same scientific standards. Although research in alternative and mind-body medicine is important, it is often very difficult to obtain funding to do these studies. In my experience, it is often a catch-22: many funding agencies presume that these approaches have little value, so they are reluctant to fund studies to determine their effectiveness; yet, one cannot assess their effectiveness without funding to do the research. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a good start, but it still provides only a fraction of the overall NIH budget.
Thus, just because data are not available does not mean an alternative treatment is ineffective, only that we don't yet know. The presumption that unstudied approaches have no value is itself unscientific until these approaches are scientifically studied and tested. At the same time, just because someone believes in the efficacy of their treatment doesn't mean it really works.
The medicine of the twenty-first century should integrate the best of traditional allopathic medicine and of complementary or alternative medicine. Our research has demonstrated that an integrated approach can be both medically effective and cost effective.
We tend to think of an advance in medicine as a new drug, a new surgical technique, a laser — something high-tech and expensive. We often have a hard time believing that the simple choices we make each day in our lives — for example, what we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke, how much exercise we get, and the quality of our social and spiritual relationships — can make such a powerful difference in our health and well-being, even our survival. But they often do.
When we treat these underlying issues, we find that the body often has a remarkable capacity to begin healing itself — and much more quickly than had once been thought possible. But not always. On the other hand, if we just bypass the problem, literally with surgery or figuratively with drugs, without also addressing these underlying causes, then the same problem may recur or new problems may emerge. Often it can feel like mopping up the floor around an overflowing sink without also turning off the faucet.
For the past twenty-four years, my colleagues and I at the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute have conducted a series of scientific studies and randomized clinical trials demonstrating that the progression of even severe coronary heart disease can often be reversed by making comprehensive changes in diet and lifestyle, without coronary bypass surgery, angioplasty, or a lifetime of cholesterol-lowering drugs. These lifestyle changes include a very low-fat, plant-based, whole-foods diet; stress management techniques; moderate exercise; smoking cessation; and psychosocial support. We have published our findings in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals.
Our work is a model of a scientifically based approach that may be helpful to others in building bridges between the alternative and conventional medical communities. The idea that heart disease might be reversible was a radical concept when we began our first study; now, it has become mainstream and is generally accepted as true by most cardiologists and scientists. In our research, we use the latest high-tech, expensive, state-of-the-art medical techniques such as computer-analyzed quantitative coronary arteriography and cardiac position emission tomography to prove the power of ancient, low-tech, and inexpensive alternative and mind-body interventions.
I think we may be at a similar place with respect to the evidence linking diet and lifestyle with breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer to where we were in 1977 when we began studying coronary heart disease. There are data from animal studies, epidemiological surveys, and anecdotal case reports in humans suggesting that diet and lifestyle choices may play a role in the development of these illnesses. For example, the incidence of clinically significant prostate, breast, and colon cancers is much lower in parts of the world that eat a predominantly low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diet. Subgroups of people in the United States who eat this diet also have much lower rates of these cancers than those who eat a typical American diet. However, randomized controlled trials have not yet been completed to see whether altering the diet may influence the progression of cancer. Many of these trials are currently under way.
Diet is only part of the story. For example, a randomized controlled trial of women with metastatic breast cancer has shown that women who received group support lived twice as long as those in the control group. Other studies have shown that people who feel lonely, depressed, and isolated are many times more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have a strong sense of connection, community, and intimacy.
In 1997, we began a randomized controlled trial in collaboration with Dr. Peter Carroll at the University of California, San Francisco, and Dr. William Fair at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to determine whether prostate cancer can be affected by comprehensive changes in diet and lifestyle, without surgery, radiation, or drug (hormonal) treatments. Men with biopsy-proven prostate cancer who have elected not to be treated conventionally ("watchful waiting") were randomly assigned to an experimental group that was asked to make comprehensive lifestyle changes or to a control group that was not.
We have the opportunity to determine the effects of diet and comprehensive lifestyle changes on prostate cancer without confounding variables — a study that would not be ethically possible in breast cancer, colon cancer, or related illnesses. Whatever we show, the data may be of wide interest.
While it would be premature and unwise to draw any definitive conclusions from a study that is still in progress, our preliminary data are encouraging. An increasing number of scientists believe that what affects prostate cancer will likely affect breast cancer as well, so research in one area has direct implications for the other.
The authors of this book describe numerous innovative research strategies that will begin the process of illuminating the scientific and clinical basis of many alternative modalities that have been used for centuries or, in some cases, formulated more recently on the basis of theory and the observations of seasoned clinicians. It will require tenacity and imagination to adapt the investigative process to the individualized nature of alternative medicine while maintaining scientific validity.
Clearly, more good science is needed. What to do in the meantime?
In choosing any therapy, one considers what is called the risk/benefit ratio. In other words, if the risk is small and the potential benefit is great, then it is probably a choice worth making.
I suspect that the optimal treatment for breast cancer and prostate cancer will integrate the best of conventional and complementary therapies. For example, there is a significant risk of recurrence after the surgical removal of breast cancer or prostate cancer, even if it seems that the tumor was localized at the time of surgery, because of microscopic metastases. In this context, even though the data are not conclusive that changes in diet and lifestyle affect the progression of breast cancer or prostate cancer, there is enough evidence to suggest that they might.
Since the only side effects of eating a low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diet (along with exercise, meditation, and support groups) are beneficial, one can make a persuasive case that it would be prudent to do all of these practices in addition to conventional treatments when these are chosen. Some alternative interventions do have risks, so one needs to exercise caution in these areas as well. Clearly, more scientific research is needed. This book can help you to find the right balance in making difficult choices.
Dean Ornish, M.D.
Founder and President, Preventive Medicine Research Institute
Clinical Professor of Medicine,
University of California, San Francisco
Copyright © 2002 by Mary Tagliaferri, M.D., L.Ac., Debu Tripathy, M.D., and Isaac Cohen, O.M.D., L.Ac.
|Chapter 1||A Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: Taking Your First Steps||1|
|Chapter 2||Building Bridges from Conventional to Alternative Medicine||10|
|Chapter 3||Choices in Healing||25|
|Chapter 4||Chinese Medicine and Breast Cancer||42|
|Chapter 5||Diet and Breast Cancer||106|
|Chapter 6||Food as Medicine: The Role of Soy and Phytoestrogens||142|
|Chapter 7||The Will to Live and Other Mysteries||181|
|Chapter 8||Natural Products in the Management of Breast Cancer||197|
|Chapter 9||Micronutrients: Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation||214|
|Chapter 10||Naturopathic Medicine||245|
|Chapter 12||Directed Prayer and Conscious Intention: Demonstrating the Power of Distant Healing||315|
|Chapter 13||A Mind-Body-Spirit Model for Cancer Support Groups||336|
|Chapter 14||The Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic: A Healing Place for Low-Income Women||363|
|Chapter 15||Evaluating Health Information||379|
Chapter One: A Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: Taking Your First Steps
Susan Love, M.D., M.B.A.
SUSAN LOVE, M.D., M.B.A., is a researcher, author, activist, surgeon, and founder of LLuminari,SM a multimedia women's-health content company, and www.SusanLoveMD.com. As author of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book and Dr. Susan Love's Hormone Book, she has gained the trust of women worldwide. She is currently the medical director of the Susan Love, M.D., Breast Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the eradication of breast cancer, an adjunct professor of surgery at UCLA, a member of the National Cancer Advisory Board, and a director of the National Breast Cancer Coalition.
Hearing the words "you have breast cancer" is shocking. The shock can last for minutes to hours, and it is soon followed by questions: "How can this be?" "What does this mean?" "Am I going to die?" "What should I do?" Many people close at hand will try to answer your questions and direct you on a path of treatment. But over the years I have learned that treatment is not enough for most women. Most of us need to be healed as well. Treatment is pretty easy to get and pretty standardized, but to feel healed, you must put together a different plan that is unique to you. This often includes what some people term alternative and conventional therapies.
With a diagnosis of breast cancer you enter the world of the "sick." Your modesty goes first. Your dignity is also left at the exam room door as you walk around in a short hospital gown with your bare bottom exposed to the world. You reveal intimate details about your body to perfect strangers, over and over again -- but they never once ask you questions about who you are as a person, who you love, and who loves you. You have ceased to be a unique contributing person in the world and have become a "case." The treatments of breast cancer, which I have called "slash, burn, and poison," are depersonalizing and cold: "one size fits all." They may well improve the statistics of survival, but they don't empower the woman who has to undergo them. In order to reclaim the process you have to take control of your treatment and control of how you are treated. You need to find ways that work for you to heal yourself as well as treat this disease. You need to find your own way through the maze of breast cancer, its practitioners, its standard therapies, and its complementary treatments and form your own unique path to healing.
All this takes time and energy, of course; neither is plentiful when you have just been diagnosed with breast cancer. That is okay. You don't have to do everything at once. Besides, a diagnosis of breast cancer is not an emergency. Most breast cancers have been present for eight to ten years by the time you can see them on a mammogram or feel them. They have either spread microscopically, or not spread, by the time of diagnosis. Although you shouldn't spend the next six months studying the problem, you do have time to catch your breath, get a second opinion, and search out the options.
It is important to start with an understanding of the current hypothesis of breast cancer. Most breast cancer starts in the lining of the milk ducts. The breast consists of approximately six to eight ductal systems. The ductal system consists of lobules that make the milk and ducts that are the pipelines, carrying milk to the nipple. We think that breast cancer is the result of a series of steps. First there are an increased number of cells in the lining of the milk ducts, almost like rust. This is called hyperplasia. The cells then become "funny looking" and are then called atypical hyperplasia. After a time the cells actually resemble breast cancer cells, but they are completely contained by the ducts. This is called ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS (a similar progression can be outlined in the lobules). Finally the cells invade outside of the ducts into the surrounding fat and become invasive ductal cancer.
This is what we commonly call breast cancer. Once breast cancer is invasive, it has the ability to cause new blood vessels to grow in order to feed the tumor. Soon after, cancer cells have the ability to invade the blood vessels and travel throughout the body. The cells find a comfortable environment in other organs and form new colonies of breast cancer cells. In fact, it is the breast cancer cells elsewhere in the body that are life threatening. If they start to grow they can interfere with vital functions in the liver, lungs, or brain and finally lead to death.
This whole process does not take place very rapidly. In fact, it is estimated that the average breast cancer has been present for eight to ten years by the time it can be felt as a lump or seen on a mammogram. It is also true that cancer cells and colonies of cancer do not grow continuously in the body; more likely they rest and grow over the years, depending in part on the environment in which they find themselves. What triggers cancer cells to grow and become detectable at one time rather than another? We really don't know, but we suspect that this is where such factors as stress and the immune system may act. Women often speak of getting cancer after a particularly stressful period of time, and wonder whether the stress caused the cancer. This is unlikely, as it takes a long time for the process to evolve. What is more likely is that the stress alters the hormonal balance of the body and possibly depresses the immune system. This imbalance may lead to stimulation of a quiescent colony of breast cancer cells, causing them to multiply, divide, and possibly spread to other parts of the body. This is what happens when a tumor reemerges after a period of dormancy. What were those cells doing for ten years? They were asleep. What put them to sleep? What woke them up? It is highly likely that the general status of health and vitality in the person will have a major impact on the status of those cells.
Our belief that all cancer cells have to be killed may not be a good one after all. This notion of killing comes in part from thinking about breast cancer as a foreign invader that gets into the body and grows continuously until it takes over. In fact, breast cancer starts in your own cells, which develop mutations, allowing them to replicate without limit and invade outside their own territory. These cancer cells are not in isolation. The cells around them, and the general state of the body, influence their capacity to thrive. A criminal analogy might work here. Some criminals have severe character defects that cannot be changed, but many can be rehabilitated if they are put into another environment. Cancer cells may also be able to be rehabilitated, reversed, or controlled if the environment of cells, hormones, and the immune system around them is changed. This becomes important in our approach to treating breast cancer. When I first started in this field twenty-five years ago, we did not have chemotherapy. Instead, if a premenopausal woman was diagnosed with breast cancer, we would take out her ovaries. Interesting new studies have monitored these women, and it turns out that taking out a woman's ovaries is as effective as chemotherapy in premenopausal women with estrogen receptor-positive cancers. Why would putting a woman into menopause treat her breast cancer? It does not kill cells the way that chemotherapy does. What it does do is change the environment for the cells by changing the hormonal milieu. The cells are probably "put to sleep" and stay asleep unless something comes to wake them up.
All of this becomes important in the way we approach breast cancer therapy. Our current therapies of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy, albeit the best we have, are crude ways of dealing with the disease. They have been shown to make some difference in survival from breast cancer, but they are focused on killing cancer cells rather than changing their environment. Hormonal therapies, immune approaches, mind-body techniques, nutritional treatment, and other alternative treatments focus on strengthening the body and altering the immune system to make important changes in the internal environment.
With this understanding, it becomes obvious that we need to address newly diagnosed breast cancer on three different fronts. The first is to do something that will prevent breast cancer from recurring in the breast. This is called local therapy and usually involves surgery to remove the cancer, in combination with radiation therapy to clean up any microscopic cells that have been left behind. The surgery is usually a lumpectomy or wide excision around the original tumor, but it can be a mastectomy if the mass is so large that it cannot be removed any other way. It is very interesting that chemotherapy will not always take care of this bulk of cancer cells in the breast. It seems that systemic therapy, regardless of whether it is chemotherapy, hormone modulation, or alternative medicine, works better on microscopic cells than on chunks of cancer. In all of these situations, surgery still appears to be the best way to debulk, or remove, the chunks of cancer. Local therapy can be curative if -- and it is a big if -- the body has either taken care of all the cells that may have gotten out or reversed them.
The next phase is systemic therapy. We presume that cells from most cancers have escaped through the bloodstream and "gotten out." These cells will seed other organs, and they can grow and affect these distant organs later on. Systemic therapies are those which are given by mouth or vein, get into the bloodstream, and therefore have a chance of affecting these cells. The most common systemic therapy is chemotherapy, with drugs that interfere with cell division and, as such, poison cancer cells as well as some normal cells. Hormonal therapy with agents such as tamoxifen, by contrast, changes the environment of the cell and probably acts more to control or reverse cancers.
The third aspect of treatment is to strengthen the body and immune system so that they can better reverse or control the cancer cells. This is where nutrition, exercise, meditation, visualization, support groups, and other alternative techniques come in. They are as important as the drugs. We all know women who have small cancers, with good prognoses, who get all the standard traditional therapies, yet rapidly succumb to the disease. By contrast, some women whom we expect to do poorly live -- to everyone's surprise. There is no question in my mind that these results are in part attributable to holistic approaches to disease. Data from new studies are showing that women who are overweight have a higher rate of recurrence than women who are not overweight. Exercise has been demonstrated to prevent breast cancer and may well help prevent recurrence. David Spiegel has demonstrated that women with metastatic disease who participated in support groups lived 18 months longer than women who did not.1 Can alternative therapies cure cancer by themselves? I don't know, but I would not personally risk it. On the other hand, can standard therapies cure cancer by themselves? I don't know, but I certainly would not risk doing one without the other.
And what about metastatic disease? Metastasis occurs when the cancer has been treated and then returns in other organs of the body: lungs, liver, bones, or brain. Again, the standard therapies are limited. We try different hormonal and chemotherapy drugs as well as radiation in an attempt to get the cancer back into remission, but we are not generally able to cure breast cancer at this point. Can we control it? We certainly try -- and again, it is here that complementary therapies are important. If we believe that a change in the environment of the body is what causes the cancer to wake up, then we certainly need a change in the environment of the body to put it back to sleep.
In addition to facing the shocking news of breast cancer and choosing specific treatment options, you still have to deal with the many debilitating side effects. In some ways, this is the most important time for women, since this is frequently when healing takes place. Tissues that have been damaged by chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation can be healed by nutrition and exercise. Acupuncture has been used successfully to treat postsurgical pain, chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, and the fatigue induced by radiation. Traditional Chinese medicine, herbs, and other therapies have been used to help women with breast cancer deal with the symptoms of premature menopause and the side effects of tamoxifen. The body clearly needs to be rebalanced after the assault from cancer therapy. Nutritional, physical, and spiritual rebalancing will make the difference.
How can a woman put together the best approach to treat her disease and heal herself? When she is newly diagnosed with breast cancer or discovers a recurrence, she needs to first put together a team of experts that includes a breast cancer specialist she can trust and work with, who will help guide her. This could be a surgeon, an oncologist, a radiation therapist, or even a primary care physician. It is important that each person feels comfortable with her care providers and acts as a partner in her team. This may mean shopping around.
Many medical doctors are scared of alternative therapies, probably because they don't know much about them. Many of their criticisms do not hold water when examined closely. Although they often cite an absence of scientific studies of alternative therapies, they will often suggest drugs that have yet to be proved effective by the "gold standard" of randomized controlled clinical trials. The recent experience when thirty thousand women underwent high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell rescue before studies demonstrated that it was not better than standard chemotherapy is a perfect example of how modern medicine is not always based on science. Some doctors complain that alternative therapy is not standardized; yet, these same physicians will argue that modern medicine cannot be dictated by insurance companies because it is not standardized. Finally, they suggest that alternative therapy is too personality driven, but at the same time, we often search for the "best" surgeon or oncologist with the understanding that the person delivering the care is as important as the care. In reality, these physicians are uncomfortable because they have not been trained in that tradition and do not feel knowledgeable about its use. By explaining to your physicians what you are doing, you can often educate them. Ask your alternative practitioners for information that you can share with your medical team. Your experience may well pave the way for the next woman with breast cancer who wants to explore a broader range of healing.
Not only is it important to find the right team of medical doctors, but you must find the right team of alternative practitioners as well. There is no advantage to walking into a health food store and picking herbs and supplements off the shelf and combining them willy-nilly. Different herbs have different effects and may or may not lend themselves to combinations. It is important that you see a trained herbalist, naturopath, or traditional Chinese medicine doctor who can guide you in this approach. Ask for their credentials and training; talk to people whom they have treated. Nutritionists and personal trainers will also be important in helping you revise your lifestyle in a more healthy manner. Look for a counselor experienced with breast cancer survivors and/or a support group to help your emotional healing. Find the best approach for your spiritual healing, whether in traditional religion, yoga, meditation, or your own personal journey. All of this is important. After a diagnosis of breast cancer, your life will never again be the same. But it can be better as you put together your approach to therapy and healing from this disease.
This is an individual journey -- one that is unpredictable. We all desire magic: "If I just eat this, take this herb, and do this exercise, the cancer won't come back again." There is no magic. One of my patients had a very small tumor, with prognostic factors that were all good. She begged us to give her chemotherapy even though we had no statistical evidence that the medicine would benefit her. She just "felt" that she had a bad tumor and needed it. We finally gave in and treated her with our most aggressive regimen. She changed her life, but within two years she was dead of metastatic breast cancer. On the other hand, one of my very first patients was a young woman with a very aggressive type of breast cancer. Not only was the tumor large, but also she had twenty positive lymph nodes. She underwent standard chemotherapy and radiation before revamping her life. She left her husband, moved to Hawaii, and started a nutrition and spiritual program that completely changed her life. She is still alive and well twenty years later.
I tell these stories not because I think that we can control all cancers with alternative approaches, but rather because I think they demonstrate how little we understand about this disease. We do what we can with standard therapy, but we base our therapies on statistics and large randomized studies, which tell us very little about any one woman, her body, and her cancer. There is no right or wrong way to treat breast cancer. There is only your way. Whatever happens to you is 100% yours, regardless of the purported statistics. Putting together your own personal prescription for treatment and healing will ultimately be the best approach for you. This magnificent collection of chapters will help you with that journey.
Copyright © 2002 by Mary Tagliaferri, M.D., L.Ac., Debu Tripathy, M.D., and Isaac Cohen, O.M.D., L.Ac.