Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. There are four main classifications of breast cancer.
- Ductal carcinoma arises from the cells of the milk ducts of the breast.
- Lobular carcinoma arises from the cells of the glands that produce milk.
- Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of breast cancer, and much more aggressive. In this type, the lymphatic tissue becomes infiltrated with cancer cells, and the breast takes on a red and swollen appearance.
- Paget’s disease is characterized by cancer cells that have migrated to the surface of the breast and resembles eczema.
Breast cancer is further classified by the terms in situ and invasive. For example, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) means that the cancer has arisen from the ductal cells, and is still confined to the basement membrane of the tissue. Invasive ductal carcinoma means that the cancer has arisen from the ductal cells, but has now spread beyond the basement membrane.
What Are The Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
Always talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following signs: a lump in the breast, a dimple in the breast, changes in the appearance of the skin, nipple discharge, eczema around the nipple, or if your breast appears red, swollen and feels heavy.
What Happens After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis?
After you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you will hear some more terms. “Estrogen positive” and “progesterone positive” means that your cancer type is hormone sensitive and that these hormones stimulate the growth of your cancer. “Her-2-neu (her-two-new) positive” means that your cancer has another cell receptor that when stimulated, contributes to the growth of the cancer.
The choice of medical treatment will depend on the size of the tumour, whether it lies in situ or has invaded surrounding tissue, whether it has spread to lymph nodes, and whether the tissue is hormone sensitive. The options are usually a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Below are some terms you may hear:
- Lumpectomy – this is the surgical removal of the tumour, as well as a margin of healthy tissue surrounding it.
- Partial mastectomy – this is similar to a lumpectomy, but more healthy tissue is removed than in a lumpectomy.
- Mastectomy – this is the surgical removal of the entire breast, including the nipple. Lymph nodes are not typically removed.
- Modified radical mastectomy – this is the removal of the entire breast, including the nipple, as well as lymph nodes. In the past, the chest wall muscles were also removed, but this is not as common anymore unless the cancer has spread to the muscles.
Integrative Naturopathic Care of Breast Cancer
No matter what stage of your cancer treatment, naturopathic medicine can help. The primary goals of supportive integrative care in breast cancer are to reduce circulating hormone levels, improve nutrition status, address insulin resistance, optimize the immune system, and maintain a healthy weight. Here are a few examples:
- Flax – there have been many studies conducted regarding the benefits of flax for breast cancer. Women with a diet high in flax show increased levels of estrogen excretion in the urine, showing that excess estrogen is being eliminated. Further, flax is an excellent source of fibre, and improves bowel movements, which also helps to get rid of excess estrogen from the body.
- Low sugar diet – a low sugar diet refers to a diet low in refined sugars: white bread and pasta, cookies, cakes, pastry, table sugar added to coffee and tea, sodas and syrups. A diet high in refined sugar increases the chances of diabetes, as well as many other health concerns. In cancer, if our blood sugar is high, and therefore our blood insulin is high, cancer cells can use this as energy to fuel their growth. A diet high in sugar also decreases our immune function.
- Exercise – just do it. Now is the time to stop making excuses. Studies have shown that exercising 30 minutes per day, 6 times per week, can prolong survival in women living with breast cancer. It also helps to maintain a healthy body weight. Fat tissue contains an enzyme that converts some types of hormones to estrogen, so lowering the fat in our bodies is critical.