Breast cancer – how common is it and what are the risks?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in both developed and developing countries. Early detection increases survival, and we at Holden Healthcare encourage women to participate in routine screening programs. The average age of diagnosis is 60, however there is a growing incidence of breast cancer in younger women – nearly 6 per cent of breast cancers in Australia and New Zealand develop in women younger than 40.
It is well understood that there is increased risk for women who have a family history of breast cancer. What is less well known is the association between breast cancer and controllable risk factors of alcohol consumption and abdominal obesity.
What does the breast cancer terminology mean?
Breast cancer is a term used for a variety of cancers that originate in the breast. Broadly it is categorised whether it begins in the ducts (about 90% of breast cancers) or in the lobules, and whether it is in situ or invasive. Some may be a mixture of in situ and invasive. Some of the less common breast cancers can arise in other structures in the breast, such as the lymph.
Staging describes the extent to which the cancer has developed. The most commonly used is Stage 0-IV, Stage IV being the most advanced.
The letter N followed by a number between 0 and 3 indicates the number of lymph nodes near the breast to which the cancer has spread. Therefore for example DCIS N(2) indicates ductal carcinoma in situ, with 2 lymph nodes affected.
What increases my breast cancer risk?
- Family history
- Not ever having given birth
- Late-age at first birth
- Starting periods early
- Going into menopause late (after age 55)
- Hormone Therapy
- Use of the Combined (oestrogen and progesterone) Oral Contraceptive Pill
- Being overweight
- Lack of physical exercise
- Excessive alcohol consumption (two or more standard drinks per day, or regularly binge-drinking 14 drinks per week)
- Antiperspirants containing aluminium, wearing underwire bras, breast implants, chemical exposure, tobacco smoking and night work have all been linked with breast cancer risk.
What protective factors could I consider?
- Early pregnancy (before age 20)
- Removal of the ovaries for women with the BRCA gene mutation.
- Diet (high red meat intake, low fruit & vegetable & fibre intake
What signs & symptoms should I look out for?
- Lump in breast or armpit
- Nipple changes
- Skin dimpling and “orange-peel” skin
- Nipple discharge
Management of breast cancer
Medical recommendations may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormonal treatments.
After breast cancer diagnosis, find a good holistic health care professional who can provide guidance about all the natural and complementary therapies that may help you. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the volume of advice on the Internet, so it is important to find an experienced and well-qualified naturopath who can help you determine what is the best way ahead for you. Be comfortable with the person you choose – you may be working together for some time.
Be sure to have your partner or someone close involved as an integral part of your healing process.
It is best to eat a primarily vegetarian diet rich in vegetables and fruits. Eliminate red meats and completely avoid caffeine & trans fats found in commercially processed foods. Eat complex carbohydrates and fibre-rich foods. Consume fish and some nuts for protein. Your naturopath will help draw up a personalised list of foods and frame up a menu plan for you.
Always consult with a herbalist for the most appropriate herbs for you. This may, for instance, include lymphatic herbs which may improve the function of the lymph system and can actually help absorb cysts. Herbs that regulate hormone function and balance the endocrine system may also be included in your herbal formula. Taken as directed, herbal formulas can be a powerful therapy on the road to health. Safety in prescribing is an important part of a herbalist’s training, and you can be confident that your qualified herbalist understands the interactions between taking your prescription medications and herbal medicine together. In fact, some research studies show better outcomes for some patients who choose to combine conventional and herbal medicine than for those who use conventional medicine alone.
There are specific supplement protocols which your naturopath can advise you on. There may be nutritional deficiencies which may be most effectively dealt with in the first instance by supplements. It is well worth the investment to consult with a trained and experienced naturopath who can discern the quality and also the appropriateness of the supplements available, especially when taken in conjunction with prescription medications.
We are not just our physical selves, and there are various practices such as massage, exercise outdoors and creative expression through a form of art, to name a few, which help relieve stress and bring about a more relaxed outlook, all beneficial in recovery from breast cancer. Your naturopath and medical herbalist can discuss these further with you and determine with you which works best for you.
We at Holden Healthcare take your health seriously and are well-trained and experienced in the care of breast cancer patients. See here for further information on what we can offer you.
If you would like to discuss this further with us, please do not hesitate to call us at Holden Healthcare on 09 282 3588
With very best wishes,