Prevention and Complementary Treatment of Breast Cancer
by Michael B. Schachter, M.D.,
In many ways, breast cancer in women is quite analogous to
prostate cancer in men. As with prostate cancer, my views on the optimal
management of patients with the disease differs markedly from that of the
conventional medical establishment. Breast cancer is a much feared, growing
menace that needs attention.
My plan is to outline some important facts about breast cancer
in terms of incidence, mortality, risk factors, and possible causes. This
discussion will imply something about what can be done both by the individual
and our society to help tame this menace. I will then discuss the general
conventional management of breast cancer, which generally involves surgery
and/or radiation and/or chemotherapy and/or hormonal or anti-hormonal treatment.
Following this, Iíll discuss alternative treatments for breast cancer, both as
adjuncts to conventional treatment and as a replacement in some cases.
I hope that you women in the audience who have not been
afflicted with breast cancer will learn some very practical things that you can
do to help reduce your risk of developing this disease. For those of you who
have had a bout with breast cancer or are currently suffering from it, I hope to
provide you with some information that you havenít heard to help improve your
chances of long term survival, as well as improve your quality of life.
Breast cancer is the most frequently occurring cancer in
women, just as prostate cancer is the most frequently occurring cancer in men.
It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women behind lung cancer, just
as prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men behind
lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimated that in 1995, 182,000 women
would be diagnosed with breast cancer and 46,000 women would die from it. One in
eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes compared
to one in twenty women in 1950. The five-year survival rate of women with breast
cancer is virtually identical to what it was 30 years ago, implying that in
spite of all the hype about early detection and the great advances in the
conventional treatment of breast cancer with radiation and chemotherapy, there
has really been no significant improvement in treatment.
Staging of Breast Cancer
The staging of breast cancer is important in terms of predicting the prognosis
(that is, the course of the disease) and from a conventional medicine point of
view, the best conventional treatment approach to a particular patientís breast cancer.
The staging of breast cancer involves the size of the cancer in the breast,
whether or not it has spread or metastasized to regional lymph nodes, and whether
or not it has metastasized to distant organs, such as the liver, lungs, bones or
A stage 0 breast cancer is one that is limited to the topmost
cell layer and the five-year survival is about 90%. A stage 1 breast cancer
cancer that is less than 2 centimeters (about an inch) in diameter with no
evidence of spread to the lymph nodes or distant organs. The five-year survival
for stage 1 is about 85%. In a stage 2 breast cancer, the cancer is 2 to 5
centimeters in diameter or the tumor is less than 2 cm, but there is a spread of
the cancer to the lymph nodes under the arm. The overall 5-year survival for
stage 2 is about 60%. However, the larger the tumor and the more lymph nodes
involved, the worse the prognosis. In stage 3, the cancer is more than 5 cm in
diameter or the lymph nodes that are involved are fixed to either themselves or
to other tissue, such as the skin or muscles. The 5-year survival for stage 3 is
about 40%. Finally, stage 4 breast cancer involves either a cancer that is fixed
to the chest wall or overlying skin, has metastases to lymph nodes above the
collarbone, or has distant metastases to distant organs, such as the liver,
lungs, bones or brain. The 5-year survival for these patients is less than
Other observed variables may be helpful in establishing the
probable prognosis for a breast cancer. The microscopic appearance of the cancer
in terms of the degree of bizarre structures of the cancer cells, whether or not
there appears to be evidence of lymphatic or blood vessel invasion and whether
or not the cancer cells have a significant amount of hormone receptors (mostly
estrogen) on their surfaces. In general, the more bizarre the cells and the more
involvement of the lymphatics or blood vessels, the worse the prognosis. The
presence of estrogen receptors, on the other hand, bodes for a better
Stages I and II and possibly stage III will usually be treated
with some form of surgery, followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy. Stage IV
will usually be treated with palliative radiation and with chemotherapy. Tamoxifen, a drug considered to be an anti-estrogen, is usually ordered when
positive estrogen receptors are present.
Known Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
Women whose menstrual periods start when they are relatively young have an
increased risk for the development of breast cancer as do women who have a late
menopause. This suggests that a woman who has a longer exposure to female sex
hormones during her lifetime will be at risk and that estrogen, the female sex
hormone that stimulates cell growth may play a role in the formation of breast
cancer. Women who have no children and women who have children, but do not
breast feed have an increased risk. This suggests that other hormones, such as
the other female sex hormone, progesterone, may have a protective effect.
Other known and accepted risk factors include:
increased alcohol intake, (2) a diet which is high in fat content, (3) being
overweight, (4) a family history of breast cancer, and (5) past irradiation of
the chest with high doses of x-rays. Fat tissue can make estrogen, so that
heavier women tend to have higher estrogen levels. Alcohol stimulates the
production of estrogen. In summary, most of the risk factors seem to be
associated with increased lifetime exposure to estrogens, decreased lifetime
exposure to progesterone, or both.
This leads us to a discussion about the relationship between
the two classes of female sex hormones--estrogen and progesterone, which tend to
balance each other in the woman. Excessive estrogen or progesterone deficiency
or a combination of both may lead to a condition known as estrogen dominance.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance include: water retention or edema, breast
swelling, fibrocystic breasts, premenstrual mood swings and depression, loss of
sexual drive, heavy or irregular menses, uterine fibroids, craving for sweets
and fat deposition in the hips and thighs. Estrogen is metabolized in the body
to a variety of substances. Two of them have been termed the "good"
and "bad" estrogens. The "bad" estrogen,
16-alpha-hydroxy-estrone, favors the development of breast cancer. Certain
chemicals seem to stimulate the pathway to form this estrogen.
Recent research indicates that certain chemicals that are
foreign to the body may behave like estrogens. These substances are called
xenoestrogens as the term "xeno" means foreign. Xenoestrogens mimic
estrogenís action. Some xenoestrogens can reduce estrogens effects.
varieties, which are rapidly degraded in the body, usually occur in plant foods,
such as soy products, cauliflower, and broccoli. These xenoestrogens protect
against the development of breast cancer. Other xenoestrogens, typically
synthetic ones, appear to amplify the effects of estrogen and may play a major
role in the development of breast cancer.
Role of Synthetic Chemicals in Development of Breast Cancer
We are living in the petrochemical era. The petrochemical era was born in the
1940's as a result of technological advances in the procurement of oil and the
manufacture of its products. In 1940, one billion pounds of synthetic chemicals
were manufactured. By 1950, the amount had increased to 50 billion pounds and by
the late 1980's, 500 billion pounds of synthetic chemicals were being produced
annually. Many of these compounds are toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic.
majority have not been adequately tested for toxicity, let alone for their
environmental and ecologic effects. Approximately 600 chemicals have been shown
to be carcinogenic in well-designed, controlled, and validated animal
experiments. Within the scientific community, the overwhelming consensus is that
chemicals carcinogenic to animals will also be carcinogenic for humans. In large
scale epidemiological human studies, approximately 25 chemicals have been proven
to be carcinogenic. For each of these 25 chemicals, animal research had
established carcinogenicity between one and three decades earlier. The epidemiological
studies are all the more significant when it is considered how
relatively insensitive epidemiological studies are in establishing the
carcinogenicity of chemicals.
Some of these chemicals, such as certain pesticides, fuels,
and plastics, function as xenoestrogens. They may do so in various ways.
enhance the production of the so-called bad estrogens. Others bind to estrogen
receptors, inducing them to issue unneeded signals to increase cellular growth.
Xenoestrogens may enter the body through animal fat because they tend to
accumulate in fatty tissues and are concentrated as you go up the food chain.
During the past 15 years, experiments reveal that several xenoestrogens cause
breast tumors in animals. Xenoestrogens tend to be synergistic in their effects,
so that a mixture of tiny amounts of many chemicals may have dire effects.
At Mt. Sinai in NYC, Dr. Mary Wolff found the levels of DDT to be higher in 58 women
who developed breast cancer compared to those who did not. At Laval University
in Canada, 41 women who had estrogen-responsive breast cancers had higher
concentrations of DDT and PCBs.
Finally, in a 1990 study of breast cancer and pesticides in
Israel, a strong relationship between the two was shown; in the 1970's, Israeli
women had one of the highest breast cancer mortality rates in the world. But, in
the 10 years that followed a 1976 ban on several organochlorine-type pesticides,
the incidence of breast cancer declined 20%, while it increased in other
industrialized nations. Prior to the ban, some dairy products had pesticide
residues as high as 500% above U.S. levels and residues in human breast milk
were 800 times the level measured in the breast milk of American women.
Role of the Lymphatic System in Removing Toxins from Body
It is the job of the lymphatic system of the body to help drain toxic substances
from tissues and poor lymphatic drainage may play a role in breast cancer
formation. The lymphatic system is a specialized part of the circulatory system
that functions as a central component of the immune system. It consists of fluid
called lymph, derived from blood and tissue fluid. The lymph moves through lymph
vessels called lymphatics back into the bloodstream. Lymph contains cell debris,
nutrients, waste products from the cells, hormones, toxins and many other
substances. It is the microenvironment of the cells. Lymph flow is dependent
upon muscle contraction that massages the outside of the lymphatic vessels,
respiration, which pulls the lymph along each time we inhale, pressure from the
pulsation of arteries, changes in posture and passive compression of soft
tissues. It is very sensitive to constricting external pressure which can impede
Over 85 percent of the lymph fluid flowing from the breast
drains to the armpit lymph nodes. Most of the rest drains to the nodes along the
breast bone. Bras and other external tight clothing can impede flow. The nature
of the bra, the tightness, and the length of time worn, will all influence the
degree of blockage of lymphatic drainage. Thus, wearing a bra might contribute to
the development of breast cancer as a result of cutting off lymphatic drainage,
so that toxic chemicals are trapped in the breast. This idea has been
popularized recently by Sydney Ross Singer, Ph.D., with the publication of his
book Dressed to Kill: The Link between Bras and Breast Cancer by Avery
Press. In this book he describes an epidemiological study that he carried out
which shows a strong link. This study is similar to the early studies that
showed a relationship between smoking and lung cancer. Women who wore bras more
than 12 hours daily had a nineteen times greater chance of developing breast
cancer than those who wore a bra less than 12 hours daily. Women who never wore
bras seemed to have an even greater protection. So, the take home message to
women is to wear bras as little as possible and when wearing them try to choose
one that is least constricting.
Dietary Measures to Help Prevent Breast Cancer
As mentioned previously, the accumulation of synthetic chemicals, such as
pesticides, plays a role in the development of breast cancer. Thus avoiding
these synthetic chemicals in food, water, and the air would be wise. Whenever
possible, organically grown foods, which do not contain pesticides, should be
eaten. Water should be pure and not contain pesticides, chlorine, fluoride and
other synthetic chemicals. Many bottled spring waters are fine. Otherwise, water should
be purified, as many urban and suburban water supplies cannot be trusted. Many
filters remove chemicals and chlorine, but if the water is fluoridated, a
reverse osmosis type of water purifier is necessary to remove the
Some xenoestrogens found in some fruits, vegetables, and other
whole foods are actually protective with regard to breast cancer. Many natural
chemicals in foods are beneficial. Vitamins and minerals, as well as accessory
food factors, can be helpful in many ways. Much of the damage and mutations that
occur in breast tissue cells are mediated by highly reactive chemicals called
free radicals, which form as a result of poorly controlled oxidation reactions.
To help prevent this damage the body contains certain anti-oxidant proteins,
such as SOD or superoxide dismutase, which help to neutralize oxidatively-induced free radicals.
The two types of SOD require three minerals--zinc, copper
and manganese-- to function properly. Thus deficiencies of any one of these
minerals may predispose to oxidation damage with resulting increased risk of
Certain vitamins, such as A, E, and C also function as
anti-oxidants and deficiencies of any one may increase breast cancer risks.
other nutrients in food appear to have protective actions. The flavones and
carotenoids are two classes of nutrients found in food that offer a great deal
of protection. To help ensure against deficiencies, whole, fresh foods should be
used as much as possible--fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and some
animal products in proper balance should be eaten. Processed, highly refined
foods containing white sugar and starch should be avoided as much as possible.
Excessive fatty foods should be avoided. Foods containing hydrogenated fats
should be completely avoided.
Keep in mind that anything that I recommend for the prevention
of breast cancer also applies to any person suffering from breast cancer. This
position differs somewhat from that of many conventional physicians and cancer
organizations. Their position often acknowledges the importance of diet and
lifestyle in preventing cancer. However, once a person has cancer, diet and
lifestyle are often ignored with total emphasis being placed on the destructive
elements of cancer treatment, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
believe that no matter what conventional treatment a breast cancer patient has
or doesnít have, diet and lifestyle factors should be emphasized. Attention to
diet and lifestyle will help to reduce toxic side effects of conventional
treatment, promote faster healing and improve the results.
Any activity which will help to remove accumulated toxins in
the breasts will help to reduce the chances of developing breast cancer. Thus,
studies show that aerobic exercise is associated with reduced cancer risk, as
the exercise will promote lymphatic drainage, and sweating will help to remove
toxins from the tissues. Although I am not aware of any direct studies showing a
reduction of breast cancer risk with a detoxification program using saunas and
certain nutrients, as is done with the Hubbard method of detoxification, I do
know that this procedure has been clearly shown to reduce pesticides and other
toxic substances in the bloodstream and in fat tissues. Since high levels of
these toxic chemicals increase the risk of breast cancer, reducing them with
this detoxification method should reduce breast cancer risk.
Nutritional Supplements for Preventing and Treating Breast
Oral supplements may be used in both breast cancer prevention and treatment
programs. These may include vitamins, minerals, enzymes, essential fatty acids,
herbs, amino acids, accessory food factors, and special therapeutic foods.
mentioned earlier when discussing food, the anti-oxidants vitamins A, C and E are
important. Large doses of each may be used as long as the person is monitored
closely, especially for possible vitamin A toxicity. Most cancer patients will
do well with high levels of vitamin C in the 10 gram per day range, spread out
over the day. Lower doses can be used for prevention. Severe gas or diarrhea are
reasons to cut back on the dosage. Vitamin D plays a role in cancer prevention
and should be supplemented unless the patient has sufficient exposure to
© 1996 Michael B. Schachter, M.D.