We have some great articles this month:
Dr. Jake Psenka discusses breast cancer risk factors and outlines the premier breast cancer risk assessment- the MOM Panel.
Dr. Sean Rankin writes about getting back to the essentials of health.
Dr. Marie describes the Traditional Chinese Medicine view on breast cancer
The MOM Panel by Jake Psenka, ND
As this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I started thinking about what this means to me as a naturopathic doctor. The first thing that came to mind was the fact that breast cancer rates have been decreasing by approximately 2% every year since 1996. This is no doubt the result of the many great public education campaigns promoting early detection through regular check-ups and self-breast exams. Discovering and diagnosing breast cancer in it’s earliest stages dramatically improves treatment outcomes. These public awareness campaigns save lives, there’s no doubt about it.
However, even with increased public awareness about breast cancer, this disease continues to be a major health problem. The latest issue of the journal Cancer, as published by the American Cancer Society, just reported the 2010 cancer statistics for the US. This article reported that over 207,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, and another 39,000 will succumb to their disease.
Currently, most efforts aimed at decreasing the incidence of breast cancer are centered on early detection and treatment of disease. As a naturopathic physician, I believe that one of the best ways to fight a disease is to prevent it from ever occurring. It has been estimated that roughly 85% of cancers are due to some sort of risk factor other than genetics. It is an established fact that the many breast cancers could be avoided if a woman’s risk factors were identified and corrected.
This is true even for women who have the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. These two breast cancer genes confer an overall lifetime risk of developing the disease of 40-85%. This means that out of 10 women who all carry the genes between 4 and 8 of them will develop breast cancer. Ever wonder why there is such a difference between 4 and 8, or why 100% of the gene-carrying women don’t develop the disease? The answer certainly has something to do with risk factors.
There are also those women who have increased risk due to having a first-degree relative with breast cancer. Having a mother or sister with the disease does indeed place a woman at higher risk, even if the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are not present. At least part of this increased risk is likely the result of shared risk factors. Dietary and physical activity habits, as well as exposure to different environmental substances are often shared among family members, and especially among people living together.
The big question at this point is which risk factors should be the focus of a breast cancer prevention strategy? Diet and exercise should be given high priority, as the potential benefits of these two are well established in the medical literature. Hormone levels are another factor that should be assessed. Ideally this would include an assessment of both the “good” and the “bad” estrogens present in a woman’s body.
Another risk factor that has been well studied is anxiety. Chronic anxiety can promote a host of problems, which ultimately lead to a reduction in overall health. Many people consider anxiety to be a mind-body issue, and it is, but even anxiety can be measured by looking at things like cortisol rhythms.
Exposure to environmental risk factors also contributes to the development of breast cancer. Associations have been made between breast cancer and exposure to things such as solvents, pesticides, and aromatic amines. One of the reasons that these chemicals are dangerous is because they can act as “endocrine disruptors,” meaning that they can upset the hormone balance in a woman’s body. Studies have also shown that in some cases exposure to pesticides can double the risk for developing breast cancer.
While knowing personal risk factors can be scary, it also can be lifesaving. By identifying any risk factors present it allows a person to begin taking steps to minimize these risks. Below is a laboratory risk panel, called the MOM (because it's what I'd give my mom), that I have put together based on a review of the medical literature concerning breast cancer risk.
Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Panel:
1. Body mass index to determine lean body mass and fat mass.
2. Omega-3-Fatty Acid analysis for essential fatty acid concentrations/ratios in the body.
3. Salivary cortisol as a way to determine the effects of anxiety on the body.
4. Comprehensive hormone panel including estrogen & estrogen metabolite assessment.
5. Environmental exposure panel including chlorinated pesticides, solvents, and aromatic amines.
6. Detoxigenomic panel for assessing genetic detoxification potential.
7. BRCA1 and BRCA2 – the breast cancer genes.
This panel represents a very detailed analysis of a woman’s breast cancer risk factors- consider it a “nothing held back” approach to risk assessment. The entire panel might not be right for every woman, and each test could be individually used depending on a woman’s history and lifestyle. If you are interested in learning more about this panel, a particular test, or about cancer prevention in general please consider me a resource.
So what does Breast Cancer Awareness month mean to me as a naturopathic physician? It’s an opportunity to educate moms, sisters, daughters and wives about they ways that they can prevent breast cancer.
Getting Back to the Essentials of Health
by Sean Rankin, DC
The American Cancer Society estimates 209,060 newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer between men and women in 2010. This figure is up from the 194,280 cases diagnosed in 2009. The number of people diagnosed with breast cancer has risen in the last year as has the number of people in the general population. More people = more diagnosed cases. An increase in the population is not the only increase we are seeing. The factors that impair the body's ability to function, destroy health, and contribute to the development of diseases such as cancer are escalating as well. More and more people are being diagnosed as overweight and obese, the number of people taking medication and the amount of medication people are taking is increasing, and the daily stress load along with environmental toxins and the number of vaccinations is also rising. Unfortunately, the number of people performing regular exercise is decreasing, as is the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.
What does this all mean? Simply, as the health of our environment declines so does the health of our body. If we look around it is not just the incidence of cancer that is on the rise it is the incidence of ill health overall that is on the rise. We desperately need to get back to the basic fundamentals of health and we need to do it soon. In a country where more than half the people rank chronic illness as their top fear isn't it time to take back control of our health?
Join me on October 23 at 11:00am to learn what you can do to take back your health and regain your life.
Chinese Medicine and Breast Cancer
by Marie Niechwiadowicz, ND
In Western medicine, breast cancer is attributed to lifestyle, diet, alcohol consumption, obesity, lack of exercise, environmental factors, and genetics. Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. According to the CDC in 2006, 191,410 women were diagnosed with breast cancer with 40,820 women dying of breast cancer.
In traditional Chinese medicine, breast cancer is called "Ru Yan," or "breast stone." Chinese medicine believes that the fundamental cause of breast cancer is emotional disturbances such as excessive thinking or anger, which lead to functional disorders of the Liver and Spleen. A common causative pattern is that excessive Heat from a deficient Liver, combined with Phlegm Dampness due to Spleen dysfunction, results in the blockage of Chi and Blood, which then "condenses" into breast cancer. Another common causative pattern is when Liver Deficiency and Kidney Deficiency lead to Chi and Blood Deficiency. Chronic Chi and Blood deficiency then leads to Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis, which causes the formation of lumps in the breast. A third pattern is when Qi Stagnation and Phlegm accumulation lead to excessive Heat toxins, which then turn to hard breast lump masses.
Traditionally, four patterns of breast cancer are differentiated and treated: Liver Qi Stagnation (hard masses without pain and redness); Phlegm Heat Obstruction (hard masses with sharp pain and redness and swelling); Liver Kidney Deficiency (hard lumps with swelling and a dimpled appearance of the breast skin, discharges and indentation of the nipple); Qi Blood Deficiency (hard lumps with swelling, ruptured abscesses, spreading to the surrounding areas).
The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of qi (life force) through out the body. The liver stores the blood and provides the mind with intuition and inspiration. The emotion associated with the liver is anger. If this anger is not expressed, the flow of qi and blood stagnates causing the fore mentioned patterns of breast cancer. The liver channel also terminates underneath the breast and can become blocked through under wire bras and shallow breathing.
While it is overly simplistic to say emotion causes cancer, western medicine has identified a Type C personality. This personality may be characterized as someone who responds to stress with depression and a sense of hopelessness. Type C personalities have a tendency to be introverted, respectful, eager to please, conforming and compliant. While correlation is not causation there is significant correlation between the Type C personality just as there is correlation between Type A personality and heart disease.
Since Chinese medicine represents a holistic model of health where as Western medicine is reductionistic, it is valuable to look at emotional factors in breast health rather than deconstructing the individual to just risk factors and symptoms.
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