Breast Cancer and Naturopathic medicine

Surprisingly, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Fortunately, increasingly effective screening methods have led to fewer adverse outcomes. However, the highest risk for tumor recurrence is within the first two years following treatment, but five years post diagnosis, the survival rate climbs to 91%. Thus, it is imperative to continually have check-ups and routinely perform self-exams.

Breast cancer treatment is determined by staging. Common conventional treatments include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The treatments are often effective; however, they do come with unpleasant side effects – infection, scarring, hair loss, nausea, fatigue, lymphedema and skin irritation to name a few. There are various naturopathic treatments that can help prevent and reduce side effects. Homeopathic medicines allow the body to recover faster from surgery and reduce scarring and nerve damage. Topical calendula can be soothing to the skin during radiation and prevent irritation. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce nausea and fatigue from chemotherapy. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body at night. It can improve sleep patterns during treatment, reduce neuropathy and make some chemotherapy treatments more effective. Each chemotherapeutic agent has its own mechanism and can cause specific side effects or nutrient deficiencies. Natural medicines and herbs are prescribed based on the chemo agents that are utilized to ensure maximum benefit while avoiding interactions.

Along with prevention of side effects, naturopathic medicine plays a great role in preventing recurrence as well as preventing onset in those that are at high risk of developing breast cancer. A good place to start is by implementing a healthy, whole foods, anti-cancer diet – looking towards colorful fruits and vegetables that have a high antioxidant profile, adequate protein from beans/legumes or grass-fed organic animal products and plenty of quality fiber. Be encouraged to engage in daily physical activity. Brisk walking for just 30 minutes, 6 days a week has shown to reduce risk of breast cancer development by 40%. Vitamin D is important for cell proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis. Therefore, adequate levels are necessary to reduce cancer stem cells.

The mind-body relationship will always play a large part in any stage of cancer diagnosis. There are many psychological, emotional, and social stresses that can overwhelm during cancer diagnosis and treatment. There is often an aspect of hurt, sorrow and perhaps unaddressed emotional weight.  Be encouraged towards nurturance to help guide these complex sensations. Support groups, talk therapy, acupuncture, lifestyle and herbal medicine can all be useful in addressing the psychological component.

Naturopathic cancer care, whether for prevention, adjunctive care or solo treatment, includes a thorough evaluation and individualized care plan based on each patient’s history, prescriptions and personal needs. Adding holistic care for breast cancer can significantly help to improve survival outcomes and prevent unwanted side effects. The journey is never easy, but we certainly know how to provide support on many levels.

Alschuler, LN., Gazella, KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer: An integrative approach to prevention, treatment and healing. Celestrial Arts, Berkeley, CA. 2010