Breast cancer is unchecked growth of abnormal breast cells.
• What causes cells to become abnormal and reproduce wildly?
Damage to the DNA, the brain of the cell, which causes mutations and
activation of oncogenes. Usually one mutation isn’t enough;
most cells must undergo several mutations before they become cancerous.
(Sometimes the mutations must occur in sequence to create a cancer,
sometimes random order will do it.) What causes DNA damage? Radiation,
free radicals, genetic defects, electrical fields, chemicals, drugs,
viruses, and metabolic stresses.
Injury to the DNA initiates all cancer.
• When mutations accumulate and oncogenes turn on, the cell
is initiated. It is abnormal, but not cancerous. Initiated cells are
diagnosed as atypia, dysplasia, or hyperplasia.
• Damaged cells alone offer no threat to long life. To become
threatening, the abnormal cells must be promoted. Promoters bring
the cells nutrients so they can reproduce. (One of the strongest promoters
of breast cancer is estrogen.) Although promoted cells can disguise
themselves so the immune sytem won’t recognize them, most of
them are seen and eaten, or encapsulated by the body so they do no
harm. Promoted cells are called carcinoma in situ.
According to Christiane Northrup, M.D., in situ cancer cells are frequently
found in the breasts of women who die of causes other than cancer.
And according to Susan Love, M.D., breast cancer specialist, in situ
cells are reversible without invasive treatments and shouldn’t
be thought of as cancers.
The cancer cascade: initiation, promotion, growth.
• Promoted breast cells, no matter how many of them there are,
are not classified as invasive unless they spread out of the tissues
of origin and into the surrounding tissues. This is the growth phase.
When promoted cells enter the growth phase, they begin to form a tumor
and to recruit blood vessels to help supply their immense need for
nutrients. (The tumor may grow so quickly that cells in its center
die from lack of nourishment.) The diagnosis now becomes infiltrating
or invasive carcinoma.
The cancer cascade can be halted or reversed.
• Once a mass of abnormal, quickly-replicating cells has created
a network of blood vessels, individual cancer cells can separate from
the tumor and travel to other parts of the body. Because the breast
is not vital to life, a breast cancer that stays in the breast is
not life-threatening. But if breast cancer cells get to the liver,
lungs, bone marrow, or the brain and continue to grow, they can hinder
the functioning of processes necessary for life. The body attempts
to check this spread by locking breast cancer cells in lymph node
prisons and by sending immune system cells out to eat traveling cancer
cells. If cancer cells are found in the axillary lymph nodes, the
diagnosis is aggressive or metastasized carcinoma.
Ninety percent of cancer deaths are from metastases.
• Not everyone whose cellular DNA is damaged will get cancer.
Why not? All cells have the capacity to repair themselves or to shut
down if they are mutated or damaged. Good lifestyle habits and ordinary
foods such as lentils also reverse DNA damage.
Special immune cells eat potential cancers.
• The wear-and-tear of life gives rise to so many mutated,
abnormal, initiated cells (even in a healthy person) that the immune
system forms a constant stream of specialized cells to seek out and
consume them. So long as the immune system is strong, and well supplied
with nutrients, initiated and promoted cells can be harmlessly eliminated,
checking the possibility of cancer.
Cancer cells are immature yet reproduce without limits. Living long
past their normal span, they appear immortal.
• Building powerful immunity isn’t always enough, though.
Cancer cells can trick the immune system into leaving them alone,
and they can replicate so rapidly that they overwhelm the immune system
with sheer force of numbers. One of the reasons breast cancer is so
difficult to treat is that cancer cells are full of life. They no
longer have the inner signal that tells them to die after reproducing.
Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, the woman with breast cancer
finds herself with cancer cells that replicate unceasingly. Cancer
cells never grow up and become productive members of their community.
They simply take up space.
Breast cancer is not one disease, but many.
Because there are different types of cells in the breasts (e.g.,
ducts and lobes) and a variety of ways that a cell can be abnormal,
there are many kinds of breast cancers and many possible treatments.
Of the two dozen kinds of breast cancer known, the majority originate
in the duct cells. (See illustration of duct cells, page 106.)
• Some breast cancers grow slowly, others quickly. Slow growing
breast cancers double in size every 42–100 days or more. Quick
growing breast cancers can double every 21 days. Pre- and peri-menopausal
women tend to have faster growing, more aggressive breast cancers
(about 10–15 percent of all breast cancers).
• Post-menopausal women, who account for 60–80 percent
of all breast cancer cases, usually have slow-growing cancers which
Microscopic examination of cellular tissue is the only scientifically
accepted way to diagnose cancer.
• The first breast surgery most women will have is a biopsy.
When there is a suspicious finding on a mammogram or a palpable lump,
there is no way to rule out cancer unless a piece of breast tissue
is removed and examined under a microscope by a pathologist. If there
is a diagnosis of cancer and further surgery is done, the breast tissues
removed then are also sent to the pathologist.
• The pathologist can see cancerous cells if they are present
and can determine the type and state of the cancer by a variety of
signs. These findings are collected into a pathology report which
will, to a great degree, determine the treatment options that you
will be offered. Pathology reports are based on opinion as well as
fact, so many women have two, three, or even four different pathologists
look at their tissue samples and give an opinion.
• To judge the “stage” of a cancer (see page 137),
lymph glands are removed (excised) from the nearby armpit. Lymph gland
excision always cuts some of the nerves to the arm. Removal of the
lymph glands does nothing to treat or cure breast cancer, and may
hinder the body’s ability to deal with cancer. Lymph gland removal
can cause numbness as well as pain, impaired circulation, swelling
(sometimes severe and long-lasting), and a life-long risk of severe
infection. The more lymph nodes removed, the more severe these side
• Lack of cancer cells in the lymph nodes doesn’t guarantee
that the cancer hasn’t metastasized (one-third of all women
with negative nodes nonetheless have metastasizing cancer), but a
positive finding does indicate that the cancer has metastasized and
may be growing elsewhere in the body.
It is difficult to determine if a cancer will metastasize.
• Aggressive (metastatic) cancer requires more vigorous treatment
than invasive (non-metastatic) cancer. And treatment is more effective
if undertaken before the metastasized cells begin to form masses in
critical organs. But micro-metastases and small clumps of cells are
extremely dificult to find. What to do?
Orthodox treatments include: Surgery to remove the primary tumor.
Radiation to eliminate any other cancer cells in the breast tissues.
Chemotherapy to kill any other cancer cells in the body. (But those
that survive—and some always do—mutate and become invulnerable
to further chemotherapy.) And hormones such as tamoxifen to check
recurrence and metastatic growth.
Alternative treatments include: Caustic herbs and pastes to burn away
the primary cancer. Nourishing, tonifying, and stimulating treatments
for building immune strength. And a variety of anti-cancer compounds
used systemically to eliminate cancer cells in the breasts and elsewhere
in the body. Exercise and a diet of healthy food, nourishing infusions,
healing oils, and phytoestrogen-rich herbs to counter recurrence.
• Does survival after a diagnosis of breast cancer depend on
orthodox medical treatments? Women who refuse such treatments do not
die sooner than women who follow orthodoxy, according to an old (1977),
but still valid, study by Hardin B. Jones, professor of medical physics.
(“A Report on Cancer,” is available at the library of
the University of California at Berkeley.)
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