Breast Cancer

Breast cancer occurs when there is a malignant tumor inside the breast. Each year more than 185,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and the incidence of this disease is rising in developed countries. There are approximately 43,500 deaths from breast cancer annually, making this disease second to lung cancer as the leading cause of death by cancer among women. Ninety percent of breast cancers are detected by women themselves, often through breast self-examination (BSE).

Signs and Symptoms

According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer is often accompanied by the following signs and symptoms.

What Causes It?

While the cause of breast cancer is not known, it is clear that the disease is hormone-dependent. Women whose ovaries do not function and who never receive hormone replacement therapy do not develop breast cancer.

Who's Most At Risk?

People with the following conditions or characteristics are at a higher-than-average risk for developing breast cancer. Despite the relevance of risk factors, 70 to 80 percent of women with breast cancer have none of the known risk factors.

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

If you are experiencing symptoms associated with breast cancer, see your health care provider immediately. He or she can help make a diagnosis and guide you in determining which treatment or combination of therapies will work best for you.

Your provider will do a breast exam and run some laboratory tests, including a study of breast tissue and genetic studies. Imaging techniques may include mammography, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other methods that help distinguish a cyst from a solid mass or make a distinction between cancerous and noncancerous disease.

Treatment Options

Early detection is important. Monthly breast self-examination and annual gynecologic examinations play a large role in early detection. Nutrition may play a role in prevention.

Treatment Plan
Treatment options depend on the size and location of the tumor, results of lab tests, and the stage, or extent, of the disease, along with the patient's age and menopausal status, general health, and breast size.

Drug Therapies

Your provider may prescribe one or more of the following therapies. Surgical and Other Procedures
Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. The choice of surgeries includes the following. Complementary and Alternative Therapies
A comprehensive treatment plan for breast cancer may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies. Psychotherapy and support groups may help improve quality of life and survival.

Nutritional tips include the following. Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include the following. Herbs
The use of certain herbal remedies may offer relief from symptoms. Try the following: a combination of black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), red clover (Trifolium pratense), and alfalfa (Medicago sativa) as a base (1 to 3 g); add two to three of the following in equal parts, 30 to 60 drops two to three times daily: Herbs are generally available as dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Dose for teas is 1 heaping tsp./cup water steeped for 10 minutes (roots need 20 minutes). Homeopathy
An experienced homeopath considers both your symptoms and constitutional type in order to create an individualized treatment regimen. Some of the most common homeopathic remedies that may helpful in treating symptoms associated with breast cancer are listed below. Acute dose is three to five pellets of 12X to 30C every one to four hours until symptoms are relieved. Acupuncture
While acupuncture is not used as a treatment for cancer itself, evidence suggests it can be a valuable therapy for symptoms associated with cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy. In a study of 104 women with breast cancer and nausea from chemotherapy (all of whom were taking anti-nausea medication), women treated with acupuncture experienced fewer attacks of nausea than women who received the medication alone. There have also been studies indicating that acupuncture may help eliminate pain and hot flashes caused by tamoxifen (a breast cancer medication). One study found that acupuncture markedly improved breathlessness in women with late stages of breast cancer. Acupressure (pressing on rather than needling acupuncture points) has also proved useful in controlling breathlessness; this is a technique that individuals can learn and then use to treat themselves.

Some acupuncturists prefer to work with breast cancer patients only after they have completed conventional medical cancer therapy. Others will provide acupuncture and/or herbal therapy during active chemotherapy or radiation. Acupuncturists treat breast cancer patients based on an individualized assessment of the excesses and deficiencies of qi located in various meridians. In many cases of cancer-related symptoms, a qi deficiency is usually detected in the spleen or kidney meridians.

Prognosis/Possible Complications
Most complications result from surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or use of the drug tamoxifen, which is effective in preventing recurrence but increases a woman's risk of endometrial cancer and thrombo-embolic disease. These include: The prognosis for breast cancer patients depends primarily on the stage, or extent, of the disease at the time of the initial diagnosis.

Following Up
Breast cancer patients should be followed every three months for eighteen months to four years, then every six months.


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