Category Archives: Breast Cancer and Chemotherapy

The Problem with Taking Antidepressants Along with Tamoxifen

http://MarnieClark.com/The-Problem-with-Taking-Antidepressants-Along-with-TamoxifenThe Problem with Taking Antidepressants Along with Tamoxifen

One of the most prevalent side effects from taking tamoxifen, the often-prescribed endocrine therapy drug for estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, is depression. Whether the depression is associated with a cancer diagnosis or from taking tamoxifen (or both) we do not know. We do know that up to 25 percent of breast cancer patients suffer what is termed “clinically significant depression” following diagnosis. [1]

Depression is not the only side effect of tamoxifen, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one of the most prevalent and debilitating side effects. Breast cancer patients and survivors on this drug commonly share with me just how debilitating the depression was for them. Many choose to stop taking it because of this. One told me that coming off the drug was like emerging from a long, dark tunnel out into the sunlight.

SSRI Drugs Prescribed For Depression

So what happens when a woman on tamoxifen goes to her doctor and complains of depression? Yes, you guessed it – she gets prescribed another drug, usually in the form of an SSRI antidepressant. That stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Without getting too heavily into the chemistry of how these drugs work (which is not my purpose with this article), in a nutshell, they work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, serotonin being a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that carries signals between brain cells. SSRI drugs work by blocking the reabsorption (aka reuptake) of serotonin, thus making serotonin more available for use in the brain. This is supposed to help ease the depression.

Estrogen’s Role in Brain Health

So why does tamoxifen cause depression? It is an estrogen antagonist, meaning it blocks the receptor sites on cells that estrogen would normally take up and direct the action of those cells. The problem with blocking the body’s natural estrogen is that it has a huge role to play in brain health (among many other biological activities). Estrogen has a protective effect on brain neurons and affects the nervous system in many different ways. By blocking estrogen, tamoxifen quite effectively compromises a person’s moods and cognitive health, even normal coordination and movement. It is a known fact that high doses of estrogen exert an anti-depressant effect in humans.

So What’s the Problem with Antidepressants and Tamoxifen Use?

A 2010 study by Canadian researchers, published in the British Medical Journal, had some interesting (and rather worrisome) findings. The researchers were hoping to discover whether using SSRI antidepressants concurrently with tamoxifen reduced the effectiveness of tamoxifen. The study was done with 2,430 women in Ontario, Canada, aged 66 years or older. These women started taking tamoxifen between January 1, 1993 and December 31, 2005.

What they discovered was quite remarkable. For women taking the SSRI drug Paxil (generic name paroxetine – one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for depression) along with tamoxifen, there was a much higher risk of death from breast cancer, namely a 24% – 91% higher risk, depending on length of time the drugs were taken together. The researchers stated that of the women taking tamoxifen and Paxil, 374 (or 15.4%) of them died of breast cancer during follow-up (mean follow-up 2.38 years). They saw no such risk with other anti-depressants, mainly paroxetine/Paxil. Researchers concluded that the use of Paxil during tamoxifen treatment was associated with an increased risk of death from breast cancer, supporting the hypothesis that Paxil can reduce or abolish the benefit of tamoxifen in women with breast cancer. These researchers concluded “We estimate that treatment with paroxetine for 41% of tamoxifen therapy (the median in our study) could result in one additional breast cancer death at five years for every 20 women so treated.” [2] (bold type added for emphasis)

That’s huge.

A newer American study reported in December 2015 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found no such increased risk for those taking paroxetine together with tamoxifen. The study followed 16,887 Californian breast cancer survivors diagnosed from 1996 to 2007 and treated with tamoxifen. Of this group of women 8,099 (roughly 50 percent) also took a variety of SSRI antidepressants. 2,946 of the women developed subsequent breast cancer in the 14-year follow-up period. Researchers stated “we did not observe an increased risk of subsequent breast cancer in women who concurrently used tamoxifen and antidepressants, including paroxetine. [3]

Huh? Of 8,099 survivors, 2,946 develop subsequent breast cancer and there’s no correlation? What the…?

Uninformed medical practitioners continue to prescribe Paxil and other SSRI drugs that are known to inhibit CYP2D6 enzymes (required by the body for the metabolization of tamoxifen). One 2013 study by Dutch researchers stated that “In clinical practice, one should strive to avoid potent CYP2D6 inhibitors as much as possible in tamoxifen-treated patients to reduce the risk of compromising the efficacy of the hormonal therapy.” [4]

To make matters worse, doctors are prescribing SSRI anti-depressant medications for hot flashes and menopausal symptoms. I was too, but I politely declined my doctor’s offering of this when I was going through terrible hot flashes related to breast cancer treatments. I’m suspicious of these drugs anyway, so that made NO sense to me. Back in 2004 I didn’t even have access to any studies that suggested taking SSRI’s could put me at a higher risk for breast cancer. I just didn’t want these drugs in my body. I also refused tamoxifen due to its long list of side effects and the fact that the State of California and the American Cancer Society have listed it as a carcinogenic agent. Why on earth would we want this in our bodies?

Truthstream Media has an interesting video on this subject on YouTube:

In this video, it is stated that Paxil has a weak estrogenic effect, but enough of an effect to promote breast cancer. Also mentioned is that FORTY to FIFTY PERCENT of American women aged 40-50 are taking these SSRI anti-depressants.

The video also references an older 1999 study entitled Antidepressant Medication Use and Breast Cancer Risk, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology [5]. This study found that taking tricyclic medications (ie SSRI drugs) for more than two years was associated with a two-fold increase in the risk for breast cancer. So we have known since at least 1999 that the use of SSRI drugs could put us at a higher risk for breast cancer.

I just thought you should know about this. As a natural therapist, I wonder about the combined toxicity of tamoxifen and SSRI drugs. Taking these drugs in combination gives the liver a lot of work to do to detoxify them. If the liver is involved in detoxification of these two drugs all the time, that taxes it to an extraordinary degree.

I think there’s a much better way to go. I believe our bodies were uniquely designed to use natural foods, herbs, essential oils and other remedies for our healing. If you’d like to find out more, sign up for my free newsletters over on the right-hand side of this page.

References:

[1] Breast Cancer Recurrence Risk Related to Concurrent Use of SSRI Antidepressants and Tamoxifen – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892037/

[2] Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Breast Cancer Mortality in Women Receiving Tamoxifen: a Population Based Cohort Study – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2817754/

[3] Tamoxifen and Antidepressant Drug Interaction in a Cohort of 16,887 Breast Cancer Survivors – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26631176

[4] Unjustified Prescribing of CYP2D6 Inhibiting SSRIs in Women Treated with Tamoxifen – http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10549-013-2585-z

[5] Antidepressant Medication Use and Breast Cancer Risk – http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/151/10/951.full.pdf

Estrogen Effects on the Brain: Much More than Sex – http://misc.karger.com/gazette/66/mcewen/art_05.htm

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Searching for Tamoxifen Alternatives?

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / stockimages
Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / stockimages

Searching for Tamoxifen Alternatives?

One of the most searched phrases on the Internet for women fighting breast cancer is “tamoxifen alternatives”.

For those of you who have been prescribed the estrogen blocking drug Tamoxifen because your breast tumor had estrogen receptors on it, one of the first things you undoubtedly did was Google something like “Tamoxifen side effects”. And what you read scared you, with good reason. The list of side effects, as well as women complaining about those side effects, is pretty darned long.

When I was going through breast cancer in 2004, I was prescribed Tamoxifen as well, even though I didn’t have an estrogen-receptor-positive tumor – mine was progesterone-receptor positive (which in itself is odd, nobody knew quite what to do with me). I couldn’t see how blocking my body’s estrogen was going to help that situation and all my doctors could say in response was to mumble something about “well, it may have some therapeutic benefit anyway.” I found that hard to believe, especially after I learned a few things about it – and back in 2004 there was nowhere NEAR the amount of research available, or chat rooms, or online support groups, that we have available to us now. What I did find was pretty distressing, so I refused Tamoxifen. Then I went in search of other, better things I could do to support my health, well-being and ability to stay healthy. I will share some of those things later in this article.

Those Pesky Side Effects

As a breast cancer coach I am in regular contact with women who took Tamoxifen and some of the other inhibitors like Femara, Arimidex, Aromasin and Evista. With the rare exception, everyone complains about the side effects. Apparently only a small percentage of women taking the drug do NOT have any side effects.

What are some of the most common side effects? Here’s a partial list (and inside the parentheses are comments made to me by others taking these drugs): joint pain, muscle pain, bone pain, joint stiffness, feelings of arthritis (“I felt like I was 85 years old on this drug!”), hot flashes (“You could fry an egg on my head!”), leg cramps, vaginal dryness (“It’s a desert down there!”), tiredness, anxiety, depression (“I felt like killing myself”), vision changes, uterine lining abnormalities (“I had to have a hysterectomy.”), insomnia, weight gain, loss of mental acuity (“I couldn’t think straight while taking it.”), hair thinning and, most worryingly, unexplained blood clots.

And we MIGHT be prepared to put up with some of those side effects if the drug actually worked well. I don’t know what the statistics are, but what I am discovering with my clients is that many of the women who took this drug still had recurrences of breast cancer, despite putting up with the side effects and toxicity. I hear this all the time! Now we also are finding out that some women don’t metabolize them well.

What Does the Research Tell Us?

Plenty of studies have been done on Tamoxifen, far too numerous to list here. Several studies have established that there is an increased incidence of endometrial cancer among women taking Tamoxifen [1], [2]. In 1993, British researchers found that Tamoxifen administered to rats induced liver cancer and several subsequent studies confirmed those findings. [3] In other animal studies (again there have been many of them) Tamoxifen caused all sorts of reproductive organ cancers including testes, uterine, cervical, and vaginal cancers. In 2000, one researcher found that a key metabolite of Tamoxifen is mutagenic (DNA damaging) when particular conditions for its metabolism are met. Those conditions are discussed at length (if you can wade through the terminology) in the research paper listed at [4]. Notably, this researcher stated: “tamoxifen presents something of a problem in the arena of regulatory testing of pharmaceuticals for genetic toxicity: negative in the battery of short-term tests, but demonstrably genotoxic (and carcinogenic) in vivo.” (In vivo means inside a living body, either animal or human, not just a test tube.)

Of course, there do exist numerous studies which indicate Tamoxifen saves lives. Indeed one recent Lancet study [5] (funded in part by the pharmaceutial company making the drug) indicated that taking it for up to ten years substantially reduces breast cancer recurrence. We all heard about that not so long ago. However, all is not what it seems. I will point you to my learned friend, Sayer Ji, of GreenMedInfo.com, who has spent some time with the facts and figures on Tamoxifen, which culminated in his 2012 comment on this research: Tamoxifen: Praised As “Life Saving” But Still Causing Cancer.

It’s clear that the medical establishment believes that Lancet study because Tamoxifen continues to be one of the most-prescribed drugs for hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. It irritates me that they remain stubbornly blind to the fact that natural medicine has many wonderful (and side-effect free) ways to stay well that can both help to prevent and also to treat cancer safely.

For those in the natural medicine arena, the bottom line is still what we see out there in the trenches – the terrible side effects from these drugs, the fact that so many women taking it are still having recurrences, and the fact that it is classed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the State of California as a human carcinogen.

So What Should an Empowered Survivor Do?

I can share with you what I did and what I am teaching others to do.

First of all, I disagree that our body’s own estrogen (a hormone we both want and need in our bodies) is causing breast cancer. If that were truly the reason, it seems to me that breast cancer would have been a problem since ancient times and it has only really become the huge problem that it is in recent decades, with the advance of processed foods, chemically-laden body products and cosmetics, environmental toxins and rising stress levels. Breast cancer is a multi-factorial disease and must be addressed on many other levels, not just hormonal. The medical establishment seems to be totally focused on the presence of estrogen receptors on breast cancer tumors. Of course they are there, estrogen plays a huge part in breast health. But complicating the problem is that there are synthetic estrogens in our body products, our drinking water, our cosmetics, our environment — they are coming at us from all directions – and I believe these synthetic estrogens, termed xenoestrogens, are just part of what is making us sick. For more about xenoestrogens, see my articles Protect Yourself From Xenoestrogens and Estrogen Dominance and Unraveling the Mystery of Xenoestrogens and Estrogen Dominance.

So my plan involved, firstly, detoxing my household of chemicals. I got rid of all that crap and began using only natural, organic products. If I couldn’t find them, I made them myself.

I began using some very particular essential oils, massaging them, undiluted, into my breast tissue on a daily basis. See my page Essential Oils for Overall Health and Specific Health Problems for a list of the oils I use.

I had my husband fit a filtration system to the kitchen sink and filtered the drinking water. I also had him install a shower filter.

I began buying only organic produce and when I couldn’t get it organically grown, I either learned how to grow it myself or washed the hell out of it (for things I really wanted/needed) or avoided it completely (I mean who really needs a rutabaga?).

I began working on building up my immune system. Here’s my page on how to do that:  8 Ways To Build a Super Strong Immune System.

I found out which supplements really made a difference in breast cancer and I discovered which foods had real research on them indicating they had anti-cancer activity and began eating those foods. Lots of them! See my page Diet and Cancer.

I got my hormone levels checked periodically. Even though I don’t believe our body’s own estrogen causes breast cancer, it made sense to me to keep an eye on things. When necessary, I use a natural wild yam cream trans-dermally to boost progesterone levels and I take certain supplements that contain wild yam and other things for breast health.

I also got my vitamin D levels checked periodically. When low, I take supplements. See my article: Why Vitamin D is So Important for Breast Health.

I amped up my exercise after reading a study called The Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study [6]. It involved 1,500 women from 1991-2000 who had early stage breast cancer. It found that women who ate plenty of vegetables and fruit every day as well as got regular physical activity were nearly 50 percent less likely to die. So I began getting more regular exercise (in addition to all those lovely plant based foods)!

I learned meditation, because I felt very strongly that a long period of badly managed stress was what undermined my immune system to such a degree that it let cancer in the door. I even created a downloadable how-to-meditate course to help others who don’t have access to meditation classes like I did. Here’s the link: Change Your Life Meditation Course

I learned how to improve my sleep because I found out that bad sleep also undermines the immune system, messes with your hormones and just generally makes you feel crappy. See my page about that: Want To Sleep Better?

I also learned how to do cleanses. A yearly or twice yearly bowel and liver cleanse is one of the best ways to get toxins and xenoestrogens out of your body and keep things running beautifully.

I am still well, healthy and here to tell the story.

References:

[1] Endometrial Cancer in Tamoxifen-Treated Breast Cancer Patients: Findings From the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) B-14 – http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/86/7/527.abstract?ijkey=f6e51d3ed6a435030236801eb63df2f1c9279a5d&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

[2] Risk and Prognosis of Endometrial Cancer after Tamoxifen for Breast Cancer. Comprehensive Cancer Centres’ ALERT Group. Assessment of Liver and Endometrial cancer Risk following Tamoxifen – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11036892

[3] Two-year Carcinogenicity Study of Tamoxifen in Alderley Park Wistar-derived Rats – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8358718

[4] Understanding the Genotoxicity of Tamoxifen? http://carcin.oxfordjournals.org/content/22/6/839.full#content-block

[5] Long-term Effects of Continuing Adjuvant Tamoxifen to 10 Years Versus Stopping at 5 Years after Diagnosis of Oestrogen Receptor-positive Breast Cancer: ATLAS, a randomised trial – http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2812%2961963-1/abstract

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Why Probiotics and Prebiotics Are So Crucial During Chemotherapy

Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net / cuteimage
Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net / cuteimage

Why Probiotics and Prebiotics Are So Crucial During Chemotherapy

Because there are so many of you undergoing chemotherapy right now, I thought it might be helpful to explain why probiotics and prebiotics are so crucial during chemotherapy (and afterward).

It’s All About The Good Bacteria

The normal healthy intestinal system contains about 100,000 billion bacteria and these bacteria are beneficial to our health. When beneficial bacteria are present, they help us to absorb and digest the food we eat, they keep out bad bacteria and carcinogens, promote healthy metabolism, reduce systemic inflammation, enhance immunity (it is said that 80% of our immune system resides in our guts!), and even support good mental health. Indeed, it is said that at the core of many health concerns there is an imbalance of intestinal bacteria.

Why Chemotherapy Causes A Problem With Good Bacteria

Chemotherapy causes a problem because these drugs go after any rapidly dividing cells, including the cells of the intestinal tract, which are renewed every 4-5 days. That’s why chemotherapy is so hard on digestion. From the mouth to the anus, these cells are killed off unselectively, along with the beneficial gut bacteria.

Supplementing With Probiotics Is Absolutely Crucial For 6 Big Reasons:

1. Probiotics help to replace some of the beneficial bacteria lost during chemotherapy and radiation;

2. Probiotics  help to clean out intestines of potentially toxic pathogens like candida, as well as chemicals and carcinogens (cancer-causing agents);

3. Probiotics appear to help chemotherapy work better. One study on mice revealed that when intestinal bacteria is compromised, chemotherapy drugs don’t work as well as they should 1.  Another study revealed that the commonly-used chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide relies partially on its capacity to mobilize certain bacteria from the gut into the bloodstream and lymph nodes.  Once inside the lymph nodes, these bacteria stimulate the immune system, which then increases the body’s ability to fight a malignant tumor2;

4. Probiotics help to absorb minerals and even produce vitamins;

5. Probiotics help the immune system.  Most alternative health practitioners are aware that supplementing with probiotics provides good support for the immune system and science is getting on board too.  2014 research published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that rugby players in New Zealand had about 40% fewer colds and gastrointestinal infections when taking probiotics, compared to taking a placebo3;

6. Probiotics help to reduce inflammation in the gut 4, indeed systemic inflammation is reduced when probiotics are taken regularly. Since cancer is an inflammatory process, anything that reduces inflammation is well worth including.

While it is true that some of the beneficial bacteria from your probiotics supplement may be obliterated by chemotherapy drugs, it is recommended to take them anyway in the hope that enough will survive to protect against unwanted organisms such as candida and Clostridium difficile, a particularly nasty form of bacteria that causes infectious diarrhea that can be severe enough to kill.

Other Helpful Things To Protect Gut Flora

Probiotics also come from certain foods.  Including these foods in your daily diet will also help the beneficial bacteria in the gut: sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, yogurt, miso soup, natto, tempeh, pickles, spirulina.

You can also include prebiotics, which  is indigestible fiber that stimulates the growth of and provides the food for beneficial bacteria in the gut. Include things like asparagus, artichoke, leek, garlic, onion, beans, chickpeas, and lentils.

Inulin is one of the indigestible fibers that good gut bacteria lives on and one of the good things about inulin is that studies on rats indicate it also increases magnesium and calcium absorption 5, important if you are prone to osteoporosis, as many of us are past a certain age.

Meditation is one surprising modality that actually assists gut flora by alleviating stress, which is a known factor for disrupting healthy gut bacteria.

Avoid antibiotic use whenever possible but if you do absolutely have to have a course of antibiotics, make sure to take probiotics and prebiotics because supplementing is known to reduce an overgrowth of bad bacteria while taking antibiotics. Be aware, however, that there are those who feel that our bodies never fully recover after antibiotic use. Dr Martin Blaser has a very interesting article in the Journal Nature about antibiotic use. He says “Early evidence from my lab and others hints that, sometimes, our friendly flora never fully recover” 5. This is also mentioned in reference 1 below.

Avoid eating loads of sugar and carbohydrates, even artificial sweeteners, which are known to harm beneficial bacteria.

If you are undergoing chemotherapy it is a good idea to keep an eye on the possibility of candida developing.  For more information on how to do that, see my article What Is The Candida Breast Cancer Connection.

References:

1.  Gut microorganisms may determine cancer treatment outcome – http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-11-gut-microorganisms-cancer-treatment-outcome.html

2.  The intestinal microbiota modulates the anticancer immune effects of cyclophosphamide – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24264990

3.  Probiotic supplementation reduces the duration and incidence of infections but not severity in elite rugby union players – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24045086

4. The Roles of Inflammation, Nutrient Availability and the Commensal Microbiota in Enteric Pathogen Infection – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26185088

5.  Stimulatory effect of inulin on intestinal absorption of calcium and magnesium in rats is modulated by dietary calcium intakes – http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00394-004-0526-7

6. Stop The Killing of Beneficial Bacteria, by Dr Martin Blaser – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21866137

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.  

Natural Remedies For Tamoxifen Withdrawal Side Effects

http://MarnieClark.com/Natural-Remedies-For-Tamoxifen-Withdrawal-Side-EffectsNatural Remedies For Tamoxifen Withdrawal Side Effects

If you are in the process of weaning yourself off of tamoxifen (and there are many reasons why you might want to do so) and need help with the resulting withdrawal side effects, this article shares some tried and true natural remedies to help you out.

The side effects of tamoxifen can be heinous.  There are many reasons for these side effects but the major one is that while tamoxifen initially acts as an estrogen-blocker, over time it begins to have estrogen-like activities. When a person has been on tamoxifen for a lengthy period (and that time period varies between people) they can begin to metabolize the drug as they would estrogen, so withdrawing from it can bring on quite a few menopausal symptoms.

Dr Scott M Sedlacek, an oncologist with Colorado Breast Specialists in Denver stated back in 1998 that when a woman stops taking the drug, she can experience estrogen withdrawal.  Dr Selacek stated “Perhaps the longer a woman takes tamoxifen, the more likely it will be metabolized as an
estrogen and therefore stimulate some of these cancers to recur.”

And that is just what we are finding – the very drug that is meant to protect us from breast cancer recurrence CAN also cause it.  I can’t tell you how many women I have personally spoken with who have told me that they took tamoxifen for the recommended five years, only to have breast cancer come back later.

Tamoxifen Is Toxic To The Body

Tamoxifen is toxic to the body, especially to the liver.  Even the US Government website http://livertox.nih.gov advises “Long term tamoxifen therapy has been associated with development of fatty liver, steatohepatitis, cirrhosis, and rare instances of clinically apparent acute liver injury.” 1

California has a law called Proposition 65 that requires the state to publish and maintain a list of known carcinogens. In May 1995, California’s Carcinogen Identification Committee voted unanimously to add tamoxifen to that list, and in 1996 the World Health Organization designated tamoxifen a human carcinogen.

As you can see, there is ample reason to stop taking it.

To Wean Yourself Off Tamoxifen

There is no need to taper off the use of Tamoxifen, you can just stop taking it.  However, some women report that they fared better when tapering the use of it, that tapering off helped to lessen the side effects.  To do this:

1.  Rather than taking your usual daily dose, take a dose every other day and do this for two weeks.  For instance, take it on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday the first week and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday the next week.
2.  Then take a dose every third day for one to two weeks.  For instance, if the last dose was on a Saturday, take the next dose on Tuesday and Friday and the following week Sunday and Wednesday.  At this point, you can stop altogether.

Natural Remedies To Help With Tamoxifen Withdrawal Side Effects

You may experience some side effects from withdrawal of tamoxifen, depending upon how long you have been taking it.  Woman speak to me of depression, terrible hot flashes, joint pains, body aches, lethargy, feeling like they have the flu, just an all-over-not-feeling-so-great experience. These side effects do not occur with everyone, but just be aware that they can happen, it’s not out of the ordinary.

For Depressed Mood or Mood Swings:
Food: Ensure you are eating well and including plenty of fresh organic vegetables and organic protein in your diet. Protein is especially important because it is necessary for good hormone levels, it has a hormone balancing effect. Also include legumes, nuts, seeds, roasted soy nuts, freshly ground flaxseed and other omega-3 fats for good brain health and neural connections, raw cruciferous vegetables, lukewarm chamomile tea (not too hot as that can usher in a hot flash!)
Exercise:  Also helps to elevate the mood. Whatever you like to do for exercise, get up and do it (even though you may not feel like it – it really does help lift the mood.)
Essential Oils: Basil, frankincense, lemon, a blend called Clarity – diffuse them in the room where you are sitting, massage them into the sides of your neck (dilute first if your skin is sensitive), rub them onto the bottoms of your feet before you go to bed.
Supplements: B vitamins assist a proper functioning nervous system, St John’s Wort, Transfer Factors (strengthening the immune system is known to help reduce depression), Panax Ginseng
Massage therapy: Research indicates massage therapy is excellent for depression, and being a massage therapist I can highly recommend it. I see a marked change in my clients that have depression after receiving a massage. You can’t beat a pair of highly trained hands for nurture-ability and easing your burdens.
Meditation: Helps to calm and balance the nervous system in ways we haven’t even learned yet. Try my guided meditation.

For Hot Flashes:
Food: Eating well is crucial for healthy hormonal balance. The same list of foods as those mentioned for Depressed Mood or Mood Swings can help with hot flashes as well. Also 1 tbsp of Bragg’s Organic Apple Cider Vinegar has been used successfully by some to help with hot flashes. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, white flour, hot drinks and sugar as they are all known to increase incidence of hot flashes. You can drink herbal tea, just let it cool down a bit first. Cruciferous vegetables are particularly helpful – broccoli, kale and cabbage contain indole-3-carbinol which naturally helps to balance estrogen levels.
Exercise: Recent studies indicate exercise does not really help hot flashes, but I beg to disagree, they obviously didn’t use yoga in their studies. I found yoga to be extremely beneficial because it helps on so many levels to calm the nervous system, it plays a part in hormonal balancing, yoga is an amazing resource.
Essential Oils: Essential oils can have a positive effect on the endocrine system by stimulating particular neurotransmitters that help to relieve hot flashes.  Clary sage, peppermint, spearmint, lavender and thyme all have a positive effect on hot flashes. If you are in the midst of a hot flash, a single drop of peppermint on the back of your neck will soon have you feeling much better.
Supplements: Omega-3 fats, black cohosh, vitex or chasteberry, American ginseng, maca – all appear to alleviate the frequency and incidence of hot flashes.
Meditation: Helps to calm and balance the nervous system, even 5-10 minutes of meditation can be very beneficial for hot flashes.
Acupuncture: Studies indicate that acupuncture does indeed help with frequency and severity of hot flashes and my clients who have tried it confirm this. 2

For Joint Pains and Body Aches:
Food: Eating lots of fresh produce definitely helps with joint pains and body aches.  Please avoid food known to be inflammatory such as caffeine, white flour and sugars.  Fresh ginger and turmeric (curcumin) are extremely good for joint pain, as are freshly ground flaxseed and other omega-3 fats.
Essential Oils:  Can be very helpful for joint pain and body aches. My favorites are wintergreen, peppermint, ginger, and a blend called Deep Relief. Rub into affected area.
Supplements: Glucosamine sulphate, omega-3 fats, MSM, ginger, turmeric
Hot Epsom Salt Baths: Use 1 cup of Epsom salts in bathtub, soak for 20 minutes (careful, not too hot as this will exacerbate hot flashes). The magnesium is a wonderful pain reliever and helps draw toxins out of the body.
Arnica Montana ointment: Very helpful for joint pain.

For Fatigue:
Food: The same list of foods as those mentioned for Depressed Mood or Mood Swings can help with fatigue as well.  Especially good quality protein (organic), legumes, vegetables (especially cruciferous), spinach and kale (high in magnesium), avocados, bananas. Drink plenty of filtered water too because dehydration can cause fatigue.
Sleep: If you are feeling especially fatigued, don’t try to fight through it.  Nurture yourself and get to bed early.  Rise later if you can, take naps, and know that this won’t last forever.
Supplements: B complex vitamins, Transfer Factors, Siberian ginseng, Coenzyme Q10.
Massage therapy: A healing massage session can definitely help with fatigue, it helps to unblock your energy channels.

Bone Density Problems After Withdrawal of Tamoxifen

Estrogen is necessary for good bone health, our bones rely upon it.  When taking tamoxifen, premenopausal women are at a higher risk for osteoporosis, and while postmenopausal women have been told that tamoxifen strengthens bone and reduces the risk of osteoporosis, its other side effects make that one particular benefit not worth risking, in my opinion.

According to Professor David S Goodsell, tamoxifen is “serendipitously specific. It is chemically very similar to estrogen, and binds in the same site on the estrogen receptor as the normal hormone. Tamoxifen is not a typical inhibitor, blocking action completely. It is found to have a range of effects, sometimes blocking the action of the receptor, but other times actually activating it…” Professor Goodsell goes on to state that tamoxifen “appears to act like estrogen in bone cells, actually providing the proper signals for bone maintenance.” 3

Maybe so, but still not worth the risk, there are many other, less toxic ways of building good bones and they don’t have the toxicity of this drug.

When withdrawing from tamoxifen, it is important to find out what state your bones are in. Research indicates that withdrawal from tamoxifen does put women at a higher risk of osteoporosis. 4

To help you find out which tests are the best ones to monitor your bone health, go to www.betterbones.com, run by Dr Susan E Brown, a bone specialist and nutritionist.  She has a very good article discussing which bone assessment techniques she feels are most advantageous: Bone Density Tests Are Not Enough.  Highly recommended reading.

Final Note:

If you have decided you wish to discontinue the use of tamoxifen, first of all I would suggest you discuss it with your oncologist or primary care physician.  You should always do this.  Some will be supportive, others may not be, so just be aware of that.  This is your body, however, and your quality of life and you have every right to do what you feel is right for you.

References:

1.  http://livertox.nih.gov/Tamoxifen.htm

2.  The effect of acupuncture on postmenopausal symptoms and reproductive hormones: a sham controlled clinical trial – http://aim.bmj.com/content/29/1/27.abstract

3.  The Molecular Perspective: Tamoxifen and the Estrogen Receptor – http://theoncologist.alphamedpress.org/content/7/2/163.full

4.  Prevention of Bone Loss After Withdrawal Of Tamoxifen – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3140137/

xxx FOR HELENA xxx

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.  

Fatigue In Breast Cancer Survivors Linked To Inflammation

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / Marin

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / Marin

Fatigue In Breast Cancer Survivors Linked To Inflammation

A common complaint amongst breast cancer survivors, especially if they have been through the gamut of conventional medicine treatments, is fatigue.  I hear this all of the time and, indeed, suffered through it myself after going through 6 months of chemotherapy.

The Link Between Fatigue, Inflammation and Chemotherapy

An interesting study reported in 2012 [1] found that high levels of inflammation may promote fatigue in women treated for breast cancer.

The study followed 633 women, all breast cancer survivors with an average age of 56 years and treated for stage I, II or III breast cancer.  It was discovered that 40% of the women in the study had elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in their blood, which is a marker of inflammation.  40% of the women also suffered from fatigue.  Interestingly, women with elevated CRP levels were 1.8 times more likely to feel fatigue.

“Fatigue is common among breast cancer survivors and may persist for years after cancer treatment, clustering with comorbid symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and pain that reduce participation in life activities and quality of life”, researchers reported.

This makes sense, especially in view of the fact that chemotherapy and radiation are both associated with increasing inflammation in the body.  In fact, a recent study [2] indicated that chemotherapy leaves a long-lasting epigenetic imprint in the DNA of the blood cells of breast cancer patients and that imprint is associated with inflammation up to 6 months after treatment is completed!

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fats Play A Role In Inflammation

Going back to the first study and those 633 women [1] the researchers investigated the intake of omega-3 fats, which are highly anti-inflammatory, as well as omega-6 fat intake, which tends to be pro-inflammatory.  It was found that a higher intake of omega-6 fats (found in most cooking oils and processed foods) was associated with both higher CRP levels and a 2.6 greater likelihood of feeling fatigued.

Conversely, women who were including omega-3 fats in their diet had the lowest levels of CRP and reported feeling less fatigue.

Inflammation Is Associated With Reduced Survival

It is well known that inflammation is associated with reduced survival among women with breast cancer [3] and inflammation also increases the risk of atherosclerosis and development of further cancers.  Cancer is, after all, an inflammatory condition.

The good thing is there is something we can do about all of this.

Good Nutrition and Omega-3s Are Helpful

Both inflammation and fatigue can be improved with simple dietary changes.  Follow the recommendations on my page Diet And Cancer and include plenty of fresh salads, vegetables, whole grains and modest amounts of fruit in your diet. And most especially, get those healing omega-3 fats into you!

Omega-3 fats are easily included in the diet and the best source is freshly ground organic flaxseed.  Freshly ground is best because the fats have not degenerated as with some commercially prepared flaxseed oils and freshly ground includes the best quality fiber and lignans.

The 15 Best Reasons To Take Flaxseed

Flaxseed has been shown to have wonderful health benefits – here are 15 of the best things it does for us:

  1. May protect against primary breast cancer [4], [6] 
  2. Decreases incidence of hot flashes [6]
  3. Increases cancer cell death [6]
  4. Decreases HER2 expression (a protein associated with breast cancer malignancy) [6] 
  5. Decreases breast cancer cell proliferation [5], [6]
  6. Improves normal cell membranes
  7. Improves breast density
  8. Exhibits anti-invasive properties [5] 
  9. Decreases risk of primary breast cancer [4], [5], [6]
  10. Reduces risk of breast cancer mortality by 33-70 percent [5], [6]
  11. Increases effectiveness of tamoxifen [5]
  12. Increases effectiveness of Herceptin [5]
  13. Improves mental health and depression [6], [7]
  14. Good for bowel health due to high fiber content
  15. Great for cardiovascular health

16 Tips For Including More Flaxseed Into Your Diet

A common complaint among breast cancer survivors is that they simply forget or can’t be bothered grinding up the flaxseed and finding ways to incorporate it into their diet, so here are my best tips on delicious ways you can use it:

  1. Sprinkle it on salads
  2. Add it to freshly prepared juices
  3. Put it in smoothies
  4. Put it in sandwiches by mixing it with mustard, mayo or mashed avocado (that way it doesn’t fall out!)
  5. Mix it into muesli, granola, or oatmeal
  6. Mix it into hummus or dips
  7. Mix it into guacamole
  8. Mix it into protein shakes
  9. Add it to organic yogurt
  10. Combine it with organic cottage cheese for some extra special anti-cancer properties (see the Budwig Diet)
  11. Sprinkle it on vegetables
  12. Sprinkle it on soup just before serving
  13. Mix it into baked goods
  14. Mix it in with any nut butter
  15. Sprinkle it into casseroles
  16. Mix it into pancake batter

References:
1. Fatigue, Inflammation, and Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acid Intake Among Breast Cancer Survivors — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341143/
2. Epigenetic changes associated with inflammation in breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy — http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159114000567
3. Elevated biomarkers of inflammation are associated with reduced survival among breast cancer patients — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2717751/
4. Consumption of flaxseed, a rich source of lignans, is associated with reduced breast cancer risk — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23354422
5. Flaxseed and its lignan and oil components: can they play a role in reducing the risk of and improving the treatment of breast cancer — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24869971
6. Flax and Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24013641
7. Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: A primer for the mental health professional — http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1476-511X-3-25.pdfDoesYou

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

What Hazelnuts, Yew Trees and Taxol® Have In Common

Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net / artur84
Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net / artur84

What Hazelnuts, Yew Trees and Taxol® Have In Common

I was recently thumbing through a very old issue of HerbalGram magazine when this headline caught my eye: “Paclitaxel (Taxol®) Found In Hazlenut Trees”.  The issue dates back to 2000 and I’m not sure why I was going through it but I found the article interesting and wanted to share it with you for a couple of reasons.

Information On Taxol®

Taxol® is the brand name for paclitaxel, the anti-cancer drug marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb – it is one of the most prescribed chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.  Taxol® is called a mitotic inhibitor because it interferes with cells during mitosis (cell division).

Taxol® Comes From A Very Natural Source

The interesting bit is that Taxol® is made from the needles of the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolia) and this is one of the main sources of paclitaxel.

Back in 2000, researchers found ample quantities of paclitaxel in the nuts, shells, leaves, limbs and bark of the hazelnut tree, which is a flowering tree, quite distinct and different to the Pacific yew tree.  The researchers weren’t particularly looking for paclitaxel, they were trying to find ways to combat a blight that was attacking hazelnut trees when they discovered something that looked like and proved to be paclitaxel.

In a presentation to the American Chemical Society in San Francisco on March 29, 2000, Dr Angela Hoffman, OSB, PhD, announced that she had found quantities of paclitaxel in at least 12 species of hazelnut trees and at least 8 species of fungus associated with hazelnut trees.  She was rather excited about this because it was hoped that additional sources, and especially fungal sources, for Taxol® might make it less expensive for cancer patients.

So The Point Of All This…

The reason why I am sharing 15-year old information with you?  I was excited about the possibility that we could eat hazelnuts and avoid the toxicity of Taxol®.  As a breast cancer coach, I am always on the lookout for natural things that can provide us with anti-cancer benefits.

The researchers were quick to point out, however, that “No one should think that by eating hazelnuts they can avoid taking Taxol® treatments.”  They said that if someone were to eat hazelnuts all day, it would not equal one regular dose of Taxol®.  They also said that there was no evidence that eating hazelnuts regularly would prevent cancer.

No One Will Do THAT Research

But who would do this kind of research anyway?  If there’s no drug to be made and a kazillion dollars on the line, no one is going to do that research.  I think it is clear that nuts ARE a great natural source of vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, and fiber and we should be eating them frequently as part of a good healthy diet.

In Praise Of Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts are full of natural fats, minerals, antioxidants, vitamins and, in particular, beta-sitosterol, which is a natural plant sterol known to reduce cholesterol and is thought to exert protective properties against breast cancer.  And paclitaxel.  So despite the “lack of evidence”,  I believe that Mother Nature provided us with everything we need to stay well and healthy, and it certainly will not hurt us to consume them (unless of course one is allergic to them).

References:

HerbalGram Magazine, issue 49, 2000

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/04/000410084755.htm

Taxanes from Shells and Leaves of Corylus avellana: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18163585

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond. 

How To Be More Assertive At The Doctor’s Office

Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net / photostock

Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net / photostock

How To Be More Assertive At The Doctor’s Office

One of the things I hear all too often from my breast cancer coaching clients is that they are tired of being bullied by their doctor when they want to investigate more natural ways to heal breast cancer, and many ask me for help on how to be more assertive at the doctor’s office.

Really – this is a big deal.  People who are going through breast cancer are having to make lots of decisions about their treatments in a pretty short period of time.

The decisions that need to be made are scary, and if the wrong decision gets made, it could be quite detrimental to one’s health and, ultimately, life.  So that part is hard enough.

Many of the people with whom I am working are wanting to go a more natural route.  Some may choose to have chemotherapy and/or radiation and use a blend of natural therapies, some don’t want the toxicity of chemotherapy or radiation at all, and some will depart from their oncologist’s recommendations when it comes to the subject of hormone blocking medications.

Dealing With The Dinosaurs

Regardless of a person’s choices, it has been my observation that the more forward-thinking doctors are okay with their patient’s choices and support their decisions.

Every once in awhile, however, we run across a dinosaur.  A doctor who absolutely refuses to see their patient’s argument and gets mad at them for having an opinion that is contrary to what is being recommended.

The dinosaurs are apt to say all kinds of negative things like, “Well you will be seeing me again in a few months when the cancer comes back.” or “You will be sorry that you made that decision.”

The most heinous thing I was ever told by one of my ladies is that her doctor told her “You are a dead woman walking.”  Can you believe that?  It  still makes me madder than a wet hen.

So how to deal with the dinosaurs?  

It can be a scary thing, going against your doctor’s orders.  I know a few women who just about have an anxiety attack when they know they are going to have “that conversation” with their doctor.

Assertiveness is a skill that takes practice.  It may be much easier for you to swallow your feelings and just crumble, but how will that make you feel later?  You won’t be happy about it, I promise.

Please note – I am not advocating that you go against your doctor’s orders or recommendations.  But if you have decided upon a different course of action and are dealing with a dinosaur, here are my best tips.

7 Tips On How To Be More Assertive At The Doctor’s Office

1.  Most importantly, know that this is YOUR body.  You get to say what happens to it.  If you are not happy about your doctor’s treatment plan, and you have done the research and decided upon a different course of action, that is your prerogative.  You have every right to do this.

2.  Don’t go in unprepared.  Think about what you want to say.  Print off the research that you have been reading that leads you to believe your course of action is the better one.  Prepare the words you want to use ahead of time.  Visualize the meeting beforehand, with you speaking your truth and your doctor listening, and it will go much more smoothly.

3.  Realize that by saying NO, you are not hurting the doctor’s feelings.  In an hour or two, he/she will most likely forget all about this conversation.

4.  Take a friend or spouse with you – someone who will absolutely have your back and support you if you start to crumble.  Another set of ears to listen and take notes is always a good idea.

5.  While you are in the doctor’s office waiting to be seen, do a little deep breathing.  This helps ease your worries and anxiety.  Breathe in what you need – peace, serenity, strength, resolve – and breathe out feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear.

6.  Be specific, calm, honest, clear in your words, and be respectful.  Make eye contact and use confident body language.  The doctor will see that you mean what you say.

7.  Keep emotions in check.  This is not a time to cry or shout or lose your temper.  Keep your voice even and firm.

At the end of the day, realize that your doctor works for you, not the other way around.  You are not there to please them.  They are there to help you get better and you get to have a say in what happens to you.  By all means, listen to their arguments for a particular type of therapy, but if it doesn’t make sense to you, you have every right to seek out another doctor’s opinion and you have every right to say no.

I wish you much healing on your journey.

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.  

Health Insurance Companies Now Dictate Your Cancer Care, To Your Detriment

Image Source: morgueFile / I Melenchon
Image Source: morgueFile / I Melenchon

 

 

 

Health Insurance Companies Now Dictate Your Cancer Care, To Your Detriment

I was disappointed (but not particularly surprised) to read a May 27, 2014 Wall Street Journal article yesterday, Insurers Push To Rein In Spending on Cancer Care.

For those of you who haven’t read it, please read that article.  It is ultra clear that certain insurance companies may not have your best health interests in mind, nor might your oncologist.

The fact I found most disgusting is that there are insurance companies in the USA offering oncologists $350.00 per month PER CANCER PATIENT if the oncologist puts that patient on the insurance company’s recommended regimen for the purpose of cost control and keeping expenses down.

Not too surprising, as some chemotherapy drugs can run over $100,000 per patient per year.

But think about that – if an oncologist has 250 patients, and only 100 of them are on the insurance company’s “recommended regimen”, that equates to $35,000 per month to the oncologist, or $420,000 per year.  What oncologist is going to pass that up?

What this means to you as a cancer patient is that the insurance company doesn’t care about you.  At all.  Which probably comes as no surprise.  Insurance companies just want to keep down costs associated with cancer treatments, and if your oncologist is one of those who gets paid $350.00 per month to put you on the routine recommended treatment regime dictated by the insurance company, you will be afforded less individualized care by that oncologist.

Still think your oncologist is working with your best interests at heart?

Your particular health situation might require more expensive chemo drugs than what the insurance company wants to pay for.  For instance, some of the newer drugs such as Kadcyla (aka TDM1), approved by the FDA in February 2013, is a new targeted therapy for women with HER2-positive secondary breast cancer.  It combines a chemotherapy drug (emtansine) with Herceptin. The treatment is delivered directly to the cancer cells, so the body’s healthy cells are not affected, which means that many of the usual side effects associated with chemotherapy, including nausea, hair loss, and vomiting, are avoided.  But the cost of it in the USA is $9,800 per month.

Do you think you’ll be offered this drug if your insurance company is one of those committed only to the bottom line and not the patient?

Mainstream medicine is BROKEN, people.  The patient takes it on the chin again.  Our standard of care, especially for cancer patients, is not only deplorable but unaffordable.  Big pharma and the insurance companies are running the cancer show, that much is perfectly obvious.

All the more reason why we as human beings would be better off putting our health insurance dollars into some kind of self-managed health care fund from the moment we’re born (like a college fund) and seeking the treatment providers who actually make a difference to us.  For cancer patients, in my opinion, that would be naturopaths, oncology naturopaths and integrative oncologists like Brian Lawenda (and, of course, cancer coaches!).

How to fight back?  Become self-empowered activists for your own health.  Ask your insurance company if it is one of those paying oncologists for recommending their treatment protocol.  Ask your oncologist.  If they are doing this, go find someone else who isn’t.  Better yet, find yourself a good integrative oncologist.  We vote best with our money.  If you need help locating someone, contact me.

The health care industry is so screwed up, who knows when it will (if ever) be sorted out and fixed.  As usual, it’s up to US to be informed and to make the health choices we need to make to get well.

References:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/insurer-to-reward-cancer-doctors-for-adhering-to-regimens-1401220033

http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2013/02/22/a-triumph-in-breast-cancer-and-another-expensive-drug/

http://www.integrativeoncology-essentials.com/about/brian-lawenda/

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond. 

Coping With Tamoxifen Side Effects

http://MarnieClark.com/ Coping-With-Tamoxifen-Side-EffectsCoping With Tamoxifen Side Effects

As a breast cancer coach, one of the most asked questions is how to cope with Tamoxifen side effects, so today I’m offering assistance!

Tamoxifen is a drug recommended for people whose breast cancer cells exhibited estrogen receptors, termed ER+ breast cancer.

The Action of Tamoxifen

Tamoxifen is in a class of drugs called “SERMs” – selective estrogen-receptor modifiers.  Tamoxifen’s action is to occupy an estrogen receptor on a cell, thus paralyzing the receptor and preventing it from triggering the events that result in cell division.  It does not kill cancer cells, rather it disables them or puts them to sleep.  Tamoxifen targets not only the estrogen receptors in breast tissue, but also all of the other cells in the body that have estrogen receptors.

Tamoxifen Side Effects

Tamoxifen is currently the “gold standard” treatment recommended for all women with hormone driven breast cancer, regardless of the stage.  The recommendation of most oncologists for women with ER+ breast cancer is that taking this medication for 5 years after a breast cancer diagnosis can supposedly reduce the risk of recurrence by up to 50%, which is a very persuasive figure.  They are now recommending Tamoxifen use for up to 10 years.

I am not convinced that Tamoxifen is such a wonder drug, and I discuss why in my article Why I Chose Against Hormone Blocking Drugs.

Part of my problem with Tamoxifen is the wide range of side effects which include headaches, dizziness, nausea, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, leg cramps, hair thinning, brain fog, pins and needles in hands and feet, joint pain, moodiness, depression and anxiety.

Tamoxifen may also put a patient at a higher risk for blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) and the lungs (pulmonary embolism), endometrial cancer and overgrowth of the lining of the uterus.

Since women are recommended to be on this drug for 5-10 years, their concerns about the side effects and loss of enjoyment of life are very real.

It Doesn’t Work For Everyone

What we are finding out here in the trenches is that this drug works for some but definitely not all.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told by a woman that she took the Tamoxifen for the prescribed amount of time and is still battling her second or even third round of breast cancer.  So it is clear that the drug doesn’t work for everyone.

Are There Alternatives To Tamoxifen?

At this time, there do not appear to be any good research studies that directly compare specific diets or nutritional strategies with the use Tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer recurrence.  Having said that, we do know that a healthy diet and plenty of exercise are truly important, they do make a big difference, and this has been proven by research studies.

The Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study followed 1,500 women with early stage breast cancer who were treated between 1991 and 2000, and found that women who both ate plenty of vegetables and fruit every day as well as got regular physical activity were nearly 50% less likely to die during the study follow up.  In this study both women taking Tamoxifen and not taking Tamoxifen were included, so it is clear that diet and exercise are incredibly important for staying well.

For those who choose to take Tamoxifen, some of the side effects can be quite troublesome and these people really need some help.

Here Are My Best Recommendations For Coping With Tamoxifen Side Effects:

Headaches – Having a regular deep tissue massage and/or acupuncture from qualified practitioners can make a huge difference with headaches.  Also, as simple as it may seem, drinking plenty of filtered water can assist your body to clear the drug from your system a little better.  So make sure to drink plenty of water (and not tap water!).

Dizziness – As odd as it may seem, meditation can be very helpful with the dizziness associated with Tamoxifen use.  If the dizziness becomes severe, however, seek the advice of your doctor.  You may need to go off the Tamoxifen or reduce your dosage.  As with headaches, drinking more water can often help to ease dizziness.

Nausea – Drink ginger tea.  You make it with organic ginger root (not the dried spice), slice off a small chunk of it and put it in hot (just off boiling) water and let it steep for several minutes.  Sip as needed.

Hot Flashes & Night Sweats – These are more difficult to solve – these symptoms show that the Tamoxifen is doing its work.  You may find that certain herbal remedies like Remifemin assist with the frequency, intensity and duration of hot flashes and night sweats.  Traditional Chinese Medicine has a number of herbs that are helpful, so seek the help of a qualified Chinese medicine doctor.  For a list of other helpful hints, see my article Tips Tricks and Support For Hot Flashes.

Vaginal Dryness – This is one of the most distressing of the side effects and not often discussed.  There is one very safe product I can recommend, a natural lubricant called Sylk.  Highly recommended.  Also organic coconut oil is very useful.

Leg Cramps – Take 500 mg of magnesium citrate twice daily.  Magnesium is also found in plenty of green leafy vegetables, so eat your salad!

Brain Fog – Essential oils are extremely helpful here because they help to clear off the neuron receptor sites of any accumulated gunk (which can result in brain fog).  Deep breathing of oils like basil, peppermint, and frankincense helps to clear your mind, improves memory and brain function.  Meditation is also very helpful.

Pins & Needles in Extremities – Again, I recommend the use of massage therapy and/or acupuncture, drinking plenty of water, and it would also be helpful to do a bowel cleanse and a liver cleanse because Tamoxifen is a toxic drug, and cleansing will help you clear chemical residues which may be building up in the tissues of your body.

Joint Pain – This is one of the more widely experienced side effects of Tamoxifen.  Yoga is helpful, as is massage therapy, and I also recommend a good quality glucosamine sulfate supplement for joint health, together with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.

Moodiness, Anxiety, Depression – Sometimes associated with Tamoxifen use, but often these problems arise just from the fact that you are going through cancer.  It’s better not to ignore them and I recommend getting some counseling.  Meditation is extremely helpful for anxiety and moodiness.  For depression related to Tamoxifen, check with your doctor to see if you can reduce your dosage of Tamoxifen.  Some women are taking it every other day, rather than daily, and still getting good results.   Dietary assistance for these problems includes eating lots of fresh organic veggies and fruit, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin B complex – all of these are surprisingly beneficial.  One last word about depression – it can come on slowly over a period of several months, and some women will not realize that they are depressed.  Pay close attention to this please and get some help if you need it.  You may want to discontinue the use of Tamoxifen if the symptoms are severe (discuss this with your doctor).  I would not recommend the use of anti-depressants because they may make Tamoxifen less effective.

If you are having problems with any of these side effects (or anything not mentioned above) associated with Tamoxifen and would like more information from me, please feel free to contact me.  I have plenty of information about all of the things I have recommended and would be happy to share it with you.  I also have a more holistic protocol for staying well without the use of hormone blockers, so please contact me if you would like information about that.

GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com).  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Why Chemo Causes Constipation

Image Source: MorgueFile / Flying Pete
Image Source: MorgueFile / Flying Pete

Why Chemo Causes Constipation

I get some very interesting questions sometimes as a breast cancer coach and today one of my clients asked a very good question: “Why does chemo cause constipation?”

Being the naturally inquisitive sort, I looked into this when I was going through chemotherapy, I wondered the same thing.  I could understand the digestive changes because chemotherapy drugs are targeting all of the rapidly growing and dividing cells, which is one of the reasons our mouths and digestive tracts and even hair suffer the effects of certain chemo drugs – they are lined with rapidly dividing, quick growing cells.

Certain Chemotherapy Drugs Cause Constipation Because…

For one thing, a certain class of chemotherapy drugs called vinca alkaloids affect the nerve supply to the gut.  Vinca alkaloids are a class of cell cycle-specific specific drugs that work by reducing the ability of cancer cells to divide.  These compounds include vinblastine, vincristine, vindesine and vinorelbine.  If you want to know more about how these drugs work, just look them up on Wikipedia, there is a lot of really interesting information about them there.

To complicate matters, some of the painkilling drugs (especially morphine based drugs) and anti-nausea meds that are prescribed just make the constipation problem worse.

Some Helpful Suggestions for Chemo Induced Constipation

  • Eat foods high in fiber like whole grains, vegetables and some fruits (see my compote recipe below);
  • Drink plenty of filtered water and freshly prepared juices each day (some doctors will rule against fresh fruit and vegetables for certain kinds of cancer treatments);
  • Exercise for 20-30 minutes – things like yoga, tai chi and walking are highly recommended;
  • See my article Natural Remedies for Chemo-Related Constipation for the recipe for one very effective herbal remedy you can either make yourself or have a naturopath mix up for you (scroll down the page for that recipe, it’s toward the bottom under Constipation Herbal).  See also the great recipe for Prune, Fig & Raisin Tea on that page.

Date, Apple, Prune & Apricot Compote Recipe

I used this recipe and found it absolutely delicious and very helpful for chemo induced constipation.  You need 2 organic apples, about 10 organic prunes (pitted), 3 organic dates, 5 organic apricots and about 1/2 cup filtered water.  Wash the apples and cut them into wedges, leaving the skin on (removing the seeds).  Place the wedges in a saucepan with water, prunes, dates and apricots.  Cover with a lid and place over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and simmer for around 3-4 minutes, remove the lid and stir the fruit up.  Cook the fruits just until soft and serve warm.  Sprinkle with freshly ground flaxseed or soaked chia seeds.

When to Seek Medical Help for Constipation

If you are constipated for more than 3 days, tell your doctor or nurse.  If you are having sharp abdominal pains, a fever, an inability to pass gas, nausea and vomiting (which admittedly can be caused by the chemotherapy drugs themselves but if it seems to be related to your constipation), or your stomach is distended and feels hard to the touch, get in to see your doctor right away.

If you would like to receive my best tips on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences, just  sign up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right, and/or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com). I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

The Benefits of Massage Therapy for Breast Cancer

Image Source: morgueFile / Yoel
Image Source: morgueFile / Yoel

The Benefits of Massage Therapy for Breast Cancer

One of the things that you might not know about me is that I am a massage therapist, so the subject of the benefits of massage therapy for breast cancer is near and dear to my heart.

As a breast cancer survivor myself, I can give firsthand testimony that massage therapy is a wonderful and beneficial thing when you’ve been told those awful words “I am sorry but you have breast cancer.”  Nurturing touch can mean so much at a time like this, and it truly does have many benefits as you progress through the gamut of treatments and uncertainties.

Some doctors and even some massage schools will tell you that massage therapy is contraindicated (not to be performed) with cancer patients, and I would very much like to dispel that myth.  There are many benefits of massage therapy for many types of cancer, but today I’m going to focus on its benefits for those going through breast cancer.

Massage Through The Ages

Massage has been used as a therapy for centuries, the earliest known reference to it being portrayed on Egyptian tombs.  It was also mentioned as early as the 700 BC in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, an ancient Chinese medical text.  Massage therapy has been used traditionally in many different cultures including China, India, Japan, Korea, Egypt, Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia and Thailand, for various ailments, pain relief, stress relief, but also for beauty.

In modern times, massage therapy has had a rather odious connection to overcome, just think of the words “massage parlour” and you’ll know what I mean by that.  That connection in people’s minds has taken YEARS to overcome and it still annoys me when I am in cities that advertise massage when it is blatantly obvious that’s not what they are selling at all.  But I digress…

Is Massage Safe For People With Breast Cancer?

The answer is a resounding YES.   Massage can safely be given to people at all stages of breast cancer, but it should be performed by a trained massage therapist who has had additional training in oncology massage, or at the very least by a skilled therapist who is knowledgeable about lymphedema, lymphedema risk, bone metastases, risk of deep vein thrombosis, and suppressed blood cell populations.

An old myth warned that massage could, by increasing circulation, spread cancer cells and promote metastasis since tumor cells travel through the body via the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels, organs and nodes through which lymphatic fluid, or lymph, flows.   We now know that movement and exercise increase circulation much more than a brief massage can, and that routine increases in circulation occur many times daily in response to the metabolic demands of our tissues.  In fact, physical activity is normally encouraged in people with cancer and there is NO reason to discourage massage or some form of skilled touch because it offers so very many wonderful benefits.

The Specific Benefits of Massage Therapy for Breast Cancer

These are the things that we know for sure about the benefits of massage therapy:

  • relieves pain
  • reduces fatigue
  • helps to alleviate nausea
  • reduces stress, anxiety and depression
  • improves sleep
  • helps nerve damage
  • improves mental clarity and alertness
  • boosts immune system
  • reduces discomfort of lymphedema

The great thing about massage therapy is that it treats the whole person, not just the symptoms of disease.  While massage doesn’t treat the cancer itself, it does help reduce the side effects caused by conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation and improves quality of life in ways we are only beginning to understand.

I Utilize Massage Therapy Daily For Continued Breast Health

I actually also use massage therapy daily on my own breasts, combined with certain essential oils because of their research-backed spectrum of pro-health activities (we aren’t allowed to say anti-cancer!).  For more information on which oils I use, see my page Essential Oils for Overall Health and Specific Health Problems.

The Research

I know my readers like to have evidence based medicine – we want PROOF, don’t we?  So here it is, and there is a lot of it:

A 2008 study done by the National Institutes of Health evaluated the efficacy of massage versus simple touch for decreasing pain and symptom distress and improving quality of life among persons with advanced cancer.  It was found that both groups experienced significant improvement in pain relief, physical and emotional distress, as well as quality of life, however, the immediate improvement in pain and mood was greater in the group receiving massage. 1

A 2004 study found that massage and aromatherapy consistently reduced anxiety and depression in cancer patients and that massage also helped decrease nausea and pain. 2

A 2014 Iranian study found that massage therapy greatly assisted patients with breast cancer with quality of sleep. 3

A 2008 study looked at the safety and effectiveness of massage in reducing stress hormone levels in patients with blood cancer and concluded that massage significantly reduced the levels of stress hormones in these patients. 4

A 2001 study indicated that massage improved immunity for adolescents with HIV and, more recently, a 2010 study showed massage had very positive effects on immune function for normal healthy individuals. 6   By the way, this does not mean that you have to be normal and healthy to enjoy an immunity boost from massage therapy.   I employed massage therapy all during chemotherapy (and I still do) and I know that it was one of the things that helped me to stay very well, despite a practically non-existent immune system.

A 2013 study showed that ovarian cancer patients receiving massage felt significantly less hopeless and enjoyed a better quality of life.7

A 2002 study of the effects of massage on hospitalized cancer patients showed that for those receiving therapeutic massage there were improvements in pain, sleep quality, symptom distress, and anxiety. 8

My advice?  If you are going through breast cancer, go and get a massage from a qualified massage therapist – you have nothing to lose and much to gain!

References:

1.  http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/110608.htm

2.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15106172

3.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24834078

4.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18300336

5.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11264907

6.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20809811

7.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23086133

8.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12237988

If you would like to receive my best tips on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences, just  sign up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right, and/or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com). I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond. 

Vitamin D May Assist Some Side Effects Of Tamoxifen

 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / Grant Cochrane
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / Grant Cochrane

Vitamin D May Assist Some Side Effects Of Tamoxifen

One of the things that most women who are going through breast cancer treatments complain about (and being a breast cancer coach, I do hear these complaints every single day) is all of the side effects of Tamoxifen and other aromatase inhibitor drugs. Things like terrible hot flashes, joint pain, muscle pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and even trigger finger (a painful painful condition that causes the fingers or thumb to catch or lock when bent, it happens when the tendons in the finger or thumb become inflamed) are quite common side effects.

A chance conversation with one of my subscribers this week led me to do some research on vitamin D because she shared with me that she was on Tamoxifen and had been recommended to take some higher-than-normal doses of vitamin D for her joint pain, and it was helping!

Vitamin D3 is one of the supplements I already recommend because it has great benefits for breast health (see my article Why Vitamin D Is So Important For Breast Health). 

Studies Indicate Vitamin D May Assist Musculo-Skeletal Pain

Spanish researchers at the Hospital Del Mar in 2011 discovered that the bone and joint pain associated with taking aromatase inhibitors like Tamoxifen was responsible for many women discontinuing their use.  They studied 290 breast cancer patients undergoing treatment with Tamoxifen or another of the aromatase inhibitor drugs.  At baseline, 90% of the women had serum vitamin D levels under 30 ng/ml, which is considered a deficiency.  All of the patients were given 800 iu daily of vitamin D, and those who were especially deficient also got an additional 16,000 iu every two weeks.

Of the women who were pain-free at baseline, those who reached serum levels of 40 ng/ml were 50% less likely to experience drug-associated joint pain than those who remained vitamin D deficient.  The authors noted that it is challenging to raise blood levels to the protective level, noting that at 3 months, 50% of the women treated with the booster doses were still deficient.  The researchers stated that a vitamin D deficiency was quite common in women treated with AIs but felt more research was required to ascertain whether AIs actually cause the deficiency. 

In an article appearing in the Annals of Oncology website titled “Aromatase Inhibitor-Induced Arthralgia – A Review” I found the following helpful information which goes a long way toward explaining how a lack of estrogen caused by AIs could certainly cause suboptimal levels of vitamin D:  “Vitamin D is closely tied to estrogen because estrogen increases the activity of 1-α hydroxylase, the enzyme responsible for conversion of 25OHD to the biologically active 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D form. Estrogen also increases the activation of the vitamin D receptor. Thus, it seems logical that the drop in estrogen levels caused by AIs may cause a decrease in vitamin D, and thus, a vitamin D deficient-like arthralgia syndrome.

Another study titled “Non-herbal Nutritional Supplements For Symptoms Relief In Adjuvant Breast Cancer: Creating A Doctor-Patient Dialogue” indicated that vitamin D had been “shown to be effective in reducing the incidence and severity of arthralgia resulting from treatment with the aromatase inhibitor letrozole.”  No dosages were recommended, however.

A more recent study released in March 2014, “Hypovitaminosis D Is A Predictor Of Aromatase Inhibitor Musculoskeletal Symptoms” appearing in The Breast Journal agreed with the Spanish study, finding that women with vitamin D levels under 40 ng/ml and taking AIs were much more likely to suffer with musculo-skeletal pain, concluding that “Further research should be carried out on identifying additional modifiable risk factors for this syndrome.

Yes, indeed.  Or maybe we could just get our vitamin D levels checked before starting the aromatase inhibitors and, if they are found to be suboptimal, start supplementing with vitamin D3.  The test you want your doctor to perform is 25(OH)D, also referred to as 25-hydroxy-vitamin D. 

The Bottom Line

Dosages will depend upon how deficient you are, but up to 4,000 iu/day have been well tolerated by most healthy people.  If you are taking AIs, however, you may be able to tolerate more than that.  I would highly recommend seeking the advice of a qualified professional because vitamin D is one of the fat soluble vitamins, meaning that it can accumulate in your body, it isn’t flushed away like excesses of water soluble vitamins such as vitamins B and C.

Not only will the vitamin D most likely assist in the joint pain associated with taking aromatase inhibitors, it just might also reduce risk of recurrence.

My own personal preference was to avoid these drugs and I explain why in my article “Why I Chose Against Hormone Blocking Drugs” (in case you’re interested).  I feel it’s much more important to keep my immune system nice and strong so that it can be doing its job effectively, keeping stress levels down, and eating lots of super foods.

I’d be glad to teach you how too – just sign up for my free newsletters and e-books on the right hand side of this page.  It would be my pleasure and my honor to assist you.

Research:

Vitamin D threshold to prevent aromatase inhibitor-induced arthralgia: a prospective cohort study

Non-herbal nutritional supplements for symptom relief in adjuvant breast cancer: creating a doctor-patient dialogue

Hypovitaminosis D is a Predictor of Aromatase Inhibitor Musculoskeletal Symptoms

Aromatase Inhibitor-Induced Arthralgia – A Review

Questions To Ask Your Oncologist

 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / stockimages
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / stockimages

Questions To Ask Your Oncologist

Once you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you will meet with several cancer specialists, usually a plastic or oncological surgeon and an oncologist, depending upon your particular diagnosis. 

One vitally important thing for you to keep in mind when you meet with your doctors after the biopsy is DON’T GO ALONE!  Not because you have anything to fear from them, but because you will – at some point – feel overwhelmed and confused by all of the new words and information coming at you.  A feeling of disbelief is common, of being overwhelmed, and having a list of questions to ask can be very empowering and helpful, especially when faced with an expert who is telling us what we need to do to get on the road to healing from breast cancer.

My Best Advice – 3 Things To Do When Going To See Your Oncologist For The First Time:

  1. Take someone with you – a trusted relative or close friend.  I can’t stress the importance of this enough.  You might think you’ve got it all under control, but I guarantee you at some point you are going to be overwhelmed with information and stop listening.  Another set of ears to take notes and/or ask questions is invaluable.
  2. Take something to record the conversation with so you can replay it later.  You will never be able to take sufficient notes and words/phrases are often forgotten or remembered poorly.
  3. Take the following list of questions to your appointment with your oncologist.

Here Are The Questions You Will Want To Ask:

  1. What type of breast cancer do I have?
  2. Where exactly is it located? (if you don’t know)
  3. Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me? (make sure you get a copy of your report as you may need it again)
  4. What is the stage of my cancer?  What does this mean?
  5. Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes or anywhere else?
  6. Is the tumor fueled by hormones?
  7. What is my prognosis (chance of recovery)?
  8. How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?
  9. What are my treatment options (or do I require further tests)?
  10. Why are you recommending this therapy for me – what exactly will it do for me?
  11. What are the chances that my cancer could come back after this treatment?
  12. Will I need to be hospitalized for treatment, or is this treatment done in an outpatient clinic?
  13. What is the expected timeline for my treatment plan? Do I need to be treated right away?
  14. What are the short term side effects of this therapy?
  15. What long-term side effects have been typical with this cancer treatment? (Oh, how I wish I had asked that question!)
  16. How can I best manage any side effects – any activities or foods that will help?
  17. What lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, rest) do you recommend I make to stay as healthy as possible before, during, and after treatment?  (If they don’t have any suggestions, please use my website as a resource because all of these things DO matter.)
  18. What are the risks of the therapy you are recommending?
  19. Are there other ways to treat my breast cancer?
  20. Are there any clinical trials (research studies involving people) open to me? (if you want that)
  21. If chemotherapy is recommended: Where will I need to go for my infusions?
  22. How long will the treatment last?
  23. Will I need to worry about premature menopause and infertility?
  24. What about lymphedema?
  25. Are there any vitamins or supplements I should avoid taking during my treatments and, if so, why?
  26. Whom should I call with questions or concerns during non-business hours? (because they WILL come up!)
  27. If I’m worried about managing the costs related to my treatments, is there anyone who can help me with these concerns?
  28. Are you aware of any support groups in this area that I could join?  (if you want that)
  29. Can you suggest a mental health professional I can see if I start to feel depressed, overwhelmed or distressed?
  30. How will I know if the cancer has come back? What should I watch for?

If your treatment involves surgery, see my article Prepare for Breast Surgery: 14 Questions To Ask Your Surgeon.

Don’t be scared.  You can do this.  Breathe.  Talk to a friend.  Punch a pillow.  Email me if you need someone to talk to (just hit the Contact button above).

I send my love to everyone taking this journey right now. If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, and/or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Why I Chose Against Hormone Blocking Drugs

 

Photo courtesy of MorgueFile and Aidairi
Photo courtesy of MorgueFile and Aidairi

Why I Chose Against Hormone Blocking Drugs

Every single day I am contacted by women who are either going through breast cancer treatments or have finished their treatments and have been prescribed estrogen blocking drugs like tamoxifen (Nolvadex), anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), letrozole (Femara), raloxifene (Evista).

Many of these drugs are also known as aromatase inhibitors because they deactive a key enzyme (aromatase) that is responsible for a key step in the biosynthesis of estrogen.

Why Women Are Prescribed Hormone Blockers

A breast tumor is called “estrogen receptor positive” or “ER+” if it has receptors for estrogen – this suggests that the cancer cells, like normal breast cells, may receive signals from the hormone estrogen that could promote their growth.  The cancer is termed “progesterone receptor positive” or “PR+” if it has progesterone receptors.  Again, this means that the cancer cells may receive signals from progesterone that could promote their growth. According to BreastCancer.org, roughly two out of every three breast cancers test positive for hormone receptors.

The women who are contacting me are very concerned about the side effects of such medications, they are researching and wanting to know more and they are wondering if there are any natural products that will do the same job without the side effects.

My Personal History

I went through breast cancer in 2004.  If you’d like to read my whole story, check out my Breast Cancer Diary page.  Briefly, however, I had a 2.5 cm tumor, about the size of an olive, and it was a rapidly growing tumor known as infiltrating ductal carcinoma.  I had a large lumpectomy and a latissimus-dorsi flap reconstruction.  I was recommended to have chemotherapy right away, but being a natural therapist I needed to be convinced of the necessity of that, so I went home to heal up and work on my immune system.  Eventually both my oncologist and my natural therapists convinced me that it would be beneficial for me to undergo chemotherapy and I did 6 months worth.  I chose not to have radiation for various reasons, and although both my oncologist and my regular doctor tried hard to get me to say yes to the hormone blocking drugs, I just could not be convinced that this was a good route for me to follow.  For one thing, I was progesterone receptor positive only, which is somewhat unusual.  I couldn’t see how tamoxifen, which is used as an estrogen-blocker, was going to help me since I was PR+.  My doctors argued it would “still have some therapeutic benefit.”  I wasn’t convinced, and especially when I read about the side effects of these drugs.  Instead I went home and went into deep research mode.  Here’s what I found.

1.  Some research indicated that tamoxifen was more useful in elderly and frail women and it removed the need for surgery in a high proportion of those women. (Akhtar SS, et al.  A 10-year experience of tamoxifen as primary treatment of breast cancer in 100 elderly and frail patients.  Eur J Surg Oncol. 1991; 17:30-5.)

2.  The Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen studied 3,500 post-menopausal women who received surgery for breast cancer. About half of these patients were considered to be low risk and received no further treatment.  The high risk patients received either radiotherapy or radiotherapy plus tamoxifen.  After about 8 years, the scientists looked at the incidence of cancer in these women.  All 3 groups had more cancer than the general population and for those who had received radiotherapy there was a higher incidence of leukemia.  There was no difference in cancer incidence in the high risk group that  received tamoxifen plus radiotherapy compared to those who just received radiotherapy, indicating that tamoxifen did not confer any special protective effects.  In fact, there was a tendency to an elevated risk of endometrial cancer. (Andersson M, et al. Incidence of new primary cancers after adjuvant tamoxifen therapy and radiotherapy for early breast cancer: J Natl Cancer Inst. 1991; 83:1013-7.)

3. The McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research of the University of Wisconsin studied rats given tamoxifen.  At first, all appeared okay, but when the rats were also given a small dose of chemicals and then fed tamoxifen, the livers of these animals showed an increase in the size and number of altered liver lesions compared with the animals that had been fed the chemicals but not the tamoxifen.  The researchers felt that tamoxifen acts as a tumor promoter in the rat liver, that it was four times the strength of phenobarbital (a drug commonly used as a representative promoting agent in experimental carcinogenesis). (Dragan YP, et al. Tumor promotion as a target for estrogen/anti-estrogen effects in rat hepatocarcinogenesis. Prev Med. 1991; 20:15-26).

4.  There were too many disturbing reports of eye damage from the use of tamixofen.  In one article that appeared in the Annals of Ophthalmology, I read about toxicity to the cornea, retina and optic nerve.  And though it seemed that the damage did not progress once the drug was stopped, it could not be repaired. (Gerner EW. Ocular toxicity of tamoxifen. Annals of Ophthalmology 1989; 21:420-3).  I had enough problems with my vision, I certainly didn’t need any more.

I could go on and on here, citing all of the research that I did – and yes this research is a little older, I went through breast cancer in 2004, as I mentioned. 

Possible Side Effects of Hormone Blocking Drugs

The list of possible side effects of these drugs is lengthy:  hot flashes, vaginal dryness, headaches, muscle, joint and body aches, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting, changes in bowel habits, muscle weakness, fatigue, increased risk of liver cancer, precancerous changes in the uterus, blood clots which could travel to the lungs and cause pulmonary embolism or a stroke, cataracts and other vision changes. 

I just wasn’t willing to submit my body to any of that.

It’s Time To Wake Up

What I am seeing as a breast cancer coach is a large quantity of women (more than I ever thought possible) who have taken the hormone blockers for the prescribed length of time (usually 5 years) and are coming to me with a new breast cancer.

We need to wake up people!  These drugs are not working.  They are toxic to our bodies and there are better ways of regaining our health.  The thing is, you can’t just say no and do nothing else.  You really need to be very pro-active with your health.  If you don’t know what to do, feel free to sign up for my e-books and newsletters, I provide them as a free service to people going through breast cancer and I share all of my best tips and information in them (see the sign-up form on the right side of this page).

It’s Not All About Estrogen!

I have said this so many times lately, it’s starting to become my slogan.  Estrogen is a hormone we want and need in our bodies.  The doctors are so focused on the fact that there are estrogen receptors on our breast cancer cells but part of the problem is that there are synthetic estrogens in our body products, our drinking water, our cosmetics, our environment, and these are part of the problem with our health (see my article Protect Yourself From Xenoestrogens and Estrogen Dominance).

In her book “Molecules of Emotion“, author and scientist Candace Pert shares with us “… accumulated environmental pollutants within our bodies are mimicking and disrupting the action of our sex hormones — estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone — which run the male and female reproductive systems.”  She goes on to state that “A recent report on receptor binding in Science, for example, has shown that environmental toxins have estrogenlike effects and bind to estrogen receptors, where they can stimulate breast cancer tumor growth.  Similarly, various toxins can act like testosterone in the male body and stimulate prostate cancer, which is embryologically similar to breast cancer.  Although this has been suspected for a long time, only recently have we gotten the hard proof that accumulation of these toxins in our bodies chronically stimulates our estrogen and testosterone receptors, putting them into a state of overdrive and leading to cancer.”

There are many other factors which put us at a higher risk for breast cancer, and right up there at the top of the list is STRESS.  You can do little to avoid it but you certainly can change the way that you react to it.  Try meditation to relieve that stress.  Get yourself into a meditation group, or if you live in a remote area download my meditation course.

I also believe that it’s vitally important to build up your immune system to be as strong and healthy as it can be, since our immune system is our first line of defense against cancer cells.  Why don’t the doctors tell you that?  Any natural therapist certainly will.  Have a look at my page 8 Ways To Build A Super Strong Immune System.  How important are these 8 items?  I believe they’re absolutely crucial.   Give proper attention to each of the 8 items on the list and you will be much happier and healthier than if you are taking toxic drug therapies.

References:

http://www.webmd.com/drugs/drug-1555-anastrozole+oral.aspx

http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/tc/breast-cancer-comparing-hormone-blocking-treatments-topic-overview

http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/hormonal/serms/tamoxifen

Cancer Therapy, The Independent Consumer’s Guide To Non-Toxic Treatment and Prevention by Ralph W Moss, PhD.

Molecules of Emotion by Candace B Pert, PhD.

If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters and e-book on the right, and/or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com).  It is my honor and my goal to help you through this so that you emerge from breast cancer feeling better than before, thriving!

 PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS BLOG POST IS INFORMATION I HAVE DISCOVERED FOR MYSELF. IT FEELS TRUE FOR ME. THE INFORMATION PRESENTED HERE IS NOT MEANT TO DIVERT YOU ON YOUR HEALING PATH, IT IS ONLY INTENDED TO RAISE AWARENESS OF OTHER WAYS OF THINKING. YOU MUST DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU.