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Breast Cancer Stem Cells – Stopping Them In Their Tracks

A growing area of cancer research, breast cancer stem cells were first identified in 2003 by scientists at the University of Michigan (UM) in the United States. With this article I will do my best to explain breast cancer stem cells, and offer some guidance about natural therapies that help to create healthy stem cells.

Healthy Stem Cells vs Breast Cancer Stem Cells

Think of healthy stem cells as “mother cells” that have the potential to become any type of cell in the body. One of the chief characteristics of stem cells is that they have the ability to self-renew or multiply while maintaining their potential to develop into other types of cells like blood cells or heart cells or bone cells. When the DNA of healthy stem cells becomes impaired or damaged, that’s when they can become cancer stem cells.

Conventional cancer theory states that any cell in the body may undergo changes in their DNA sequences and become a  rogue cancer cell. Researchers at the Ludwig Center at Stanford, however, postulate that “our normal stem cells are the only cells that reproduce themselves and are therefore around long enough to accumulate all the necessary changes to produce cancer.” 1

According to UM researchers, breast cancer stem cells (hereinafter “BCSCs”) are identified by a cell surface glycoprotein marker named CD44, which is responsible for cell to cell communication, cell adhesion and migration. Also on BCSCs are very low or no levels of a surface marker named CD24, another glycoprotein on the cell surface of most B lymphocytes, a white blood cell and part of the immune system. UM researchers discovered that just a few BCSCs were required for the growth and spread of breast cancer and that unless the BCSCs could be destroyed, tumors were likely to recur and spread to other parts of the body (called metastasis). 2

Although BCSCs comprise only a small population within a tumor, they are resistant to conventional chemotherapy and radiation therapy because BCSCs do not renew themselves through normal cell division as other cancer cells do. In fact, these therapies are known to stimulate BCSCs and make them grow faster. 3, 4

Let me repeat that. Chemotherapy and radiation do not kill BCSCs. Any cancer therapy that ignores BCSCs in favor of killing non-tumor causing daughter cells in order to shrink a tumor will not result in destroying the root of the cancer.

My friend Elyn Jacobs, a cancer strategist in New York City, advises: “Don’t be misled into thinking that tumor reduction guarantees that you are making progress with respect to overcoming the disease, as you may not be. Shrinking a tumor by killing the less damaging cancer cells (the non-stem cells) with chemo and/or radiation may NOT improve long term survival and may increase the likelihood that these cancer stem cells will metastasize, allowing them to regenerate tumors elsewhere in the body. So although you may get an 80% reduction in tumor bulk, you are not targeting the most dangerous of the cells.” 5

The BRCA1 link

For those who have a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, this part may be of interest. As we know, the BRCA1 (or breast cancer 1) gene is a tumor suppressor gene, mutations in which are strongly linked to breast and ovarian cancers.

UM Cancer Center scientists have discovered that the BRCA1 gene regulates self-renewal of BCSCs. When the gene is mutated, BCSCs multiply abnormally.

So the task becomes clear – we must take in the nutrients that help our stem cells and genes be as healthy as they can be. By doing this, we not only combat any BCSCs currently circulating in the body, we are also actively creating healthy cells and genes that have no damaged DNA.

Natural Therapies To Combat Breast Cancer Stem Cells

The exterior of most healthy cells are covered densely with things that appear to be tiny little trees, called glycoforms or glycans. These glycoforms prevent viruses, bacteria and other enemies from entering the cell by blocking the entrance to the cell’s surface. The glycoforms of healthy cells are also responsible for assisting in cell-to-cell communication, indeed they play an intimate role in nearly every single human physiological process. Glycoforms can also hold onto an enemy cell for safekeeping until an immune cell comes to destroy it (kind of like a holding cell at the police department!). The objective is to create healthy glycans/glycoforms so that our cells are able to communicate effectively, and this helps in a myriad of ways, including the formation of healthy stem cells and immune cells. In order to create healthy glycans/glycoforms we need to be consuming at least 8 simple sugars, known as monosaccharides, from our diet and the problem is we are only consuming two – glucose and galactose. The other 6 sugars are missing because of things like fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, harvesting fruit and vegetables too early – before they are completely ripe – thus most of the all-important simple sugars are either missing or extremely depleted. We absolutely must supplement with glyconutrients in order to build healthy cells that do the jobs they were meant to do.

Foods/Herbs that Help.
Cruciferous vegetables (and especially broccoli sprouts) contain particular phytochemicals such as sulfurophane which work in a myriad of ways to block the formation of BCSCs. 6
Curcumin – literally hundreds of studies have been done on curcumin and its ability to kill cancer cells, but it also targets BCSCs and improves the sensitivity of certain chemotherapy drugs in estrogen receptor positive (ER+), progesterone receptor positive (PR+) and estrogen receptor negative (ER-) breast cancer cell lines. 7 One study also indicated that curcumin inhibited the migration of BCSCs, an important factor for metastasis. 8 Get it by using loads of turmeric in your cooking, by all means, but the best way is to supplement with it. Make sure that your supplement has been optimized for bioavailability by the addition of piperine and an oil, as they both improve absorption.
Ginseng – a chemical component called ginsenoside F2 derived from ginseng has been tested for its efficacy against BCSCs. Research found that ginsenoside F2 suppressed BCSC proliferation (rapid growth) and increased apoptosis (planned cell death). 4, 9
Raspberries (both red and black), and more specifically ellagic acid and ellagitannins, help our immune system find BCSCs by removing the protein that hides them from our immune system. While it may be tempting to take ellagic acid via a supplement, you must eat the berries because they contain the all-important ellagitannin complex within them. Raspberries also have many anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic properties and are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, they help reduce inflammation and encourage apoptosis. 10
Fermented soy products including soy sauce, miso, natto and tempeh have research indicating they help to reduce cancer symptoms, reduce chemotherapy side effects, decrease chemotherapy resistance, increase survival rates and improve cancer stem cell differentiation, suggesting reduced aggressiveness of cancer. 11

This by no means an exhaustive list, but the items listed above are definitely among the best things that are known to help create healthy stem cells rather than BCSCs.

Please do avoid all sugar, processed food (if it has a bar code, check out the list of ingredients carefully), preservatives, conventionally grown produce (always buy organic), chemically laden body products and cleaning products, drinking from plastic bottles and drinking tap water.

For more information about some more healing foods, check out my page Diet and Cancer.


1. The Stem Cell Theory of Cancer –


3. Targeting Breast Cancer Stem Cells:

4. Breast Cancer Stem Cells: A Novel Therapeutic Target –

5. Cancer Stem Cells and Progression of Disease – What You Need to Know Now –

6. Dietary Sulforaphane in Cancer Chemoprevention: The Role of Epigenetic Regulation and HDAC Inhibition –

7. Curcumin Improves the Tumoricidal Effect of Mitomycin C by Suppressing ABCG2 Expression in Stem Cell-Like Breast Cancer Cells –

8. Curcumin Inhibits Breast Cancer Stem Cell Migration By Amplifying the E-cadherin/ß-catenin Negative Feedback Loop –

9. Ginsenoside F2 Induces Apoptosis Accompanied By Protective Autophagy In Breast Cancer Stem Cells –

10. The Truth About Ellagic Acid and Red Raspberries –

11. Managing Immunity In Resistant Cancer Patients Correlates To Survival: Results and Discussion of a Pilot Study –

The Trophoblast and the Origins of Cancer – By Dr Nicholas Gonzalez

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