Stress and Breast Cancer Stem Cells

Cancer stem cells

Last night I was flipping through an older book on cancer that I’d sent to my mother in 1997 when she’d been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer – it had spread to her bones and I was combing all the book shops (no Internet then!) to find anything and everything I could to help her.

The book I sent was “Heal Cancer: Choose Your Own Survival Path” [1] by Dr Ruth Cilento, and reading it back in 1997 was the first time I’d come across the idea of “stressed cells”, but even in 1997 it was not a new idea. Cell biologists have long known that if cells are stressed, this can lead to cancerous changes.

Considering the fact that there are over 37 trillion cells in the human body, all stemming from that one single cell that heralded your conception, it’s all a bit mind-boggling, really. But what are stressed cells, and how do we avoid that situation?

Stressed cells have lost the minerals, vitamins and nutrients they require to protect them and their electrical charge. They may have been invaded by toxic substances which have leaked through their damaged membranes and this depletes their ability to do what they need to do, and it alters the programming of the cell.

There are many things that can cause stressed cells – mental stress (more on that below), bad nutrition, smoking cigarettes, drug use, hormone imbalances, radiation, extremes in temperature, repeated trauma, environmental pollution, chemical toxins, invasion by viruses, fungi or germs – the list is long.

As a breast cancer coach, however, one of the things that women tell me most frequently is that in the lead-up to their breast cancer diagnosis they were under a lot of chronic (long term) mental stress. It was the same for me, and it’s obvious that mental stress equals stressed cells. We are, after all, a unity of body and mind. What happens to one happens to the other.

But I wanted to understand the mechanism by which this happens. What’s going on in our physiology when we’re under stress?

Why Chronic Stress is a Factor in Cancer

A new 2019 study [2] on mice with breast cancer has recently uncovered what just might be the answer to that question, and it’s the first study to do so. Apparently chronic stress can accelerate the growth of cancer stem cells. This is important because you can kill the tumor, but if you haven’t also dealt with the stem cells, the cancer can regrow. And guess what? Radiation and many forms of chemotherapy don’t kill cancer stem cells, in many cases they spur their growth. [3]

We already know that chronic stress can lead to a higher risk for heart problems, poor gut health and even cognitive impairment. But what exactly is going on in the body that causes stress to fuel the growth of cancer stem cells?

The 2019 study [2] had researchers looking deeply into how physiological factors changed in the mice that experienced chronic stress. They found that the hormone epinephrine (aka adrenaline) was at the center of it all. The stressed mice had much higher levels of epinephrine than the mice not experiencing the stress. So they gave the stressed mice a drug that blocked epinephrine, and that resulted in their cancer tumors shrinking, and they had fewer cancer stem cells.

Cortisol Has a Part to Play, But …

In the past, we believed that it was cortisol in stressed people that was suppressing the immune system and causing stressed cells and cancer. And cortisol certainly plays a part in all of this. But apparently cortisol isn’t the only factor – epinephrine actually assists cancer stem cells to thrive and the mechanism by which this happens is interesting. The 2019 researchers [2] found that when epinephrine binds to ADRB2, a cell receptor that interacts with epinephrine, the interaction boosts an enzyme known as lactate dehydrogenase. This enzyme acts to increase energy to muscles in situations of danger (which triggers the release of epinephrine), thus allowing the person to either fight a threat or to flee from it. When this occurs, a compound known as lactate is produced. If there is active cancer present in the body, tumor cells feed on lactate to acquire more energy for themselves.

The researchers from the 2019 study [2] then validated their findings by studying the epinephrine levels of 83 breast cancer patients. They found that those who had high blood levels of epinephrine also had high levels of lactate dehydrogenase in their tumors (they had access to the tumors through breast biopsy samples). They also found that those who had higher levels of epinephrine had poorer outcomes after treatment when compared with patients who had lower levels of epinephrine.

Help for Stressed Cells

Fortunately, the researchers in this study also looked at strategies which would block the ill effects of epinephrine. In cell studies with human breast cancer cells, they analyzed the effects of a few approved drugs on the production of lactate dehydrogenase. The most promising substance wasn’t a drug, however – it was good old plain vitamin C! Touted for YEARS in natural health circles as being a potent anti-cancer weapon, vitamin C blocks lactate dehydrogenase in cell studies and in mice. It makes tumors shrink.

There are a few other things that will help stressed cells, besides vitamin C. Here are some of the best:

Flaxseed oil – An important essential fatty acid, flaxseed oil helps by creating healthy cell membranes. It also starts the conversion of oxygen to energy for every cell. When we breathe in oxygen, essential fatty acids in cell membranes attract, capture and transport oxygen into, and carbon dioxide out of, the body. Essential fatty acids also carry oxygen through red blood cell walls and help to combine with iron-containing “heme” to form hemoglobin, the main oxygen-carrying molecule in our blood. For more information on the importance of consuming healthy essential fatty acids like flaxseed oil, read the writings of Udo Erasmus and Johanna Budwig.

Juicing organic vegetables, greens and fruits – Consuming the juice of organic produce provides instant nutrition to the cells of our body, without requiring much energy for digestion. Juicing provides us with loads of cell-protective antioxidants like vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and hundreds of anti-cancer phytochemicals that are immediately available for the body to deliver to our cells. It’s one of the best things you can do to feed stressed cells and deliver natural anti-tumor phytochemicals right where they’re needed.

Meditation – Because it’s obvious that chronic stress leads to cancer – and promotes the growth of cancer stem cells – dealing with it effectively becomes critical. That’s where meditation comes in. Meditation has been shown in a number of studies to help reduce stress. A 2000 study [4] found that meditation significantly eased stress, anxiety, depression, negative thoughts, and anger in cancer patients. A 2005 study [5] found that meditation reduced stress and anxiety for nurses working in a high-pressure environment. A 2014 study [6] found that meditation decreased depression and stress in family caregivers of people with dementia. Apparently, the longer we meditate, the better the outcome – so if at first you don’t notice a benefit, stick with it. A 2019 study [7] found that long-term meditators recovered from stress more quickly, experienced more positive emotions after being exposed to stress, and adapted better to stressful situations than did non-meditators. Meditation is easy to learn (I can teach you!) – the hardest thing about it is taking the time to actually sit still and do it.

Feed Your Adrenals – Epinephrine/adrenaline is produced in the adrenal glands and chronic stress can lead to adrenal burnout = stressed cells. There are a number of herbs that feed the adrenals, including ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, holy basil (aka tulsi), licorice root, and Siberian ginseng. Please work with a qualified naturopath or herbalist when using herbs to improve your health.

There are many other strategies that will help to avoid stressed cells. Avoiding smoking cigarettes, drug use, extremes in temperature (when possible!), environmental pollution, and chemical pollutants are all wise. If you’d like my help with some of this, use the Contact form above and put “Coaching” in the subject line. It’s my honor to help you through this stage of your life.

References:

[1] Heal Cancer: Choose Your Own Survival Path, Dr Ruth Cilento, Hill of Content Publishing Co Pty Ltd, Melbourne, Australia, 1993

[2] Stress-induced Epinephrine Enhances Lactate Dehydrogenase a and Promotes Breast Cancer Stem-like Cells – https://www.jci.org/articles/view/121685

[3] Article: Common Cancer Treatments May Create Dangerous Cancer Stem Cells – https://www.livescience.com/23511-cancer-treatments-create-cancer-stem-cells.html

[4] A Randomized, Wait-List Controlled Clinical Trial: The Effect of a Mindfulness Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Program on Mood and Symptoms of Stress in Cancer Outpatients – https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2000/09000/A_Randomized,Wait_List_Controlled_Clinical_Trial.4.aspx

[5] Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Health Care Professionals: Results From a Randomized Trial – https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/00a3/f4a4906373dff0a0290f1354d7bd0f2bd016.pdf

[6] Meditation-based Interventions for Family Caregivers of People with Dementia: a Review of the Empirical Literature – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24093954

[7] Exploration of Psychological Mechanisms of the Reduced Stress Response in Long-term Meditation Practitioners – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30849720

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How To Live In The Moment – 9 Tips

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng and Lumix2004

Image source: stock.xchng and Lumix2004

I was taught by a dear friend of mine, Judy, the importance of living in the moment when I was going through breast cancer.  I guess it had never occurred to me before then…

I was sitting with her in the sunshine on her porch and I had just been diagnosed and was feeling fairly traumatized by the notion that I had an unwanted “guest” in my body.

Judy was listening to my long litany of things I was worrying about – chief among them being “What if everything I do turns out not to be enough?”  Judy gave me a gift that day, by saying “Well you can certainly go down that road and worry yourself endlessly.  Or you can choose to just live in the moment.  Appreciate the here and now as fully as you can.”  That turned out to be life-changing advice, and I thank my friend Judy from the bottom of my heart for that beautiful lesson.

We Can Get Lost In the Past and Agonize About the Future

Being a human isn’t easy.  Our brains, which are so marvelous at figuring out complex things, can also be the bane of our existence.  We can listen to the tales our brain tells us – worrying endlessly about what happened at a party last week, what people will think, how big our credit card bill is – on and on and on.

Sometimes our brain gets fixated on the future, however, and if we are anxious or fearful about that, it can be paralyzing.  The trick is not to let our mind control us, rather, to take hold of the mind and direct it where you WANT it to go.

The reason I believe that living in the moment is important when you’re going through breast cancer is because there are so many things about which to be anxious and fearful.  Living in the moment truly strips that away and helps you to be more fully alive NOW (which is really all that matters – the here and now!)

My Favorite 9 Tips On Living In The Moment

  1. Release Your Self-Conscious Anxiety – If you can, release your worries about what people are thinking of you.  Most people are so focused on themselves, they really are not thinking about you as much as you think they are.  Who cares what they think anyway?  It simply does not matter.
  2. Truly Savor The Present Moment – Be alive to it, use all of your senses.  Really hear the song that is playing or what your child is telling you, totally immerse yourself in the beautiful colors of a sunset, truly feel your clothes touching your skin, taste that mouthful of food you just took – endeavor to identify exactly what you’re tasting.  If you’re doing something you perceive as boring (like walking to the bus stop), treat it as a meditation and observe with new eyes each thing you see on the journey – a bird, another human (smile at them!), a squirrel rushing past.  Your world is changing constantly – be alive to it.
  3. Be Very Mindful – All The Time! – This works especially well in your relationships with others and initially can be a little hard to do.  But the more you practice it, the better you get at it.  Simply put, it involves NOT reacting with anger in situations where you normally would.  Take a moment and really think about what is being said, how it’s meant.  The Buddhists call this recognizing the spark before the flame.  In short you are inhabiting your own mind more fully, by not reacting and pausing a moment to think about things you are being fully present.  When you do respond, do your best not to respond in anger but with thoughtfulness.
  4. Don’t Avoid Pain – By pushing away painful thoughts (or even physical pain) you are simply postponing dealing with it.  By facing it fully, accepting it for what it is and then releasing it (whether via a talk with your psychotherapist or a massage or whatever you need to do) you bring yourself fully into this moment.
  5. Meditation Assists – Living in the moment gets easier with meditation because you are actively clearing thoughts from your mind (like the wind blows clouds from the sky) when you meditate and concentrating on an affirmation or your breath.  When you notice your mind has wandered, simply bring it back to the present moment and your breath.
  6. Forgive What Has Happened In The Past – That old saying “To err is human, to forgive divine” has never been more true.  When you forgive someone for a wrong you perceived they have committed, you free yourself from the past and this allows you to be more present now.
  7. Do One Thing At A Time – When you are multi-tasking (and I know you are… we’re all guilty!) you are quite unable to focus on any one thing and give it your full attention.  Resist the urge to rush through it.  Do it slowly, thoughtfully, mindfully, like it was the single most important thing you ever had to do.  Try smiling while you’re doing it.
  8. Leave Blank Holes in Your “To Do” List – Resist the urge to schedule things really close together for 14 hours straight. Give yourself a little wiggle room to breathe, meditate, take a walk or simply sit and do nothing!  We have become human DOINGS rather than human BEINGS.  Just sit and “be”.
  9. Do Something Nice For Someone – Whether it’s for someone you love or a total stranger, nothing helps you to be more in the moment than to let someone know you care by doing something nice for them.  Even just smiling at a stranger as you pass by could have an impact on their entire day.  Hold a door open for someone, give up your seat on the bus to an older person, cook your spouse their favorite meal unexpectedly, tell someone how much they mean to you.  It feels really good – to them and to you.

A final note:  When I am stressing about something it’s almost always because I’m reaching too far into the future and feeling concerned about it.  It helps to bring yourself back to “right now” by asking yourself “Am I okay right now?”  If the answer is yes, then feel gratitude and stay with that feeling for as long as you can.  Because right now is all we have.  90% of the things we worry about never happen.

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, or “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach).  It is my honor to help you through this.

Your Emotional Health Is Important When You’re Going Through Breast Cancer

Photo courtesy of rgbstock.com and Zela

Photo courtesy of rgbstock.com and Zela

Understanding how our emotional health impacts our physical selves was something that I really wanted to grasp when I was going through the breast cancer journey.  Being a massage therapist, I knew the two were inter-related and important.

Repressed Emotions Can Be Detrimental

One of my favorite authors, Dr Bernie Siegel, was a wonderful source of information to me and helped me understand how our emotional health impacts our physical health.

In his book Love Medicine & Miracles, Dr Siegel shared the importance of expressing your emotions when cancer is diagnosed.  He said that feelings of anger and rage are usually well founded and must not be repressed.  Dr Siegel stated “Unexpressed feelings depress your immune response.”  He went on to say that the people who show and express how they feel “survive adversity better than those who are emotionally constricted.”

Dr Siegel discussed a 1979 study by Leonard Derogatis and Martin Abeloff, John Hopkins Medical School, who studied 35 women with breast cancer and found that those who lived longer were much more expressive in their anger, fear, guilt and depression as compared to those women who suppressed their emotions.

This illustrates how much repressed emotions are injurious not only for your mental health but also your physical health.  Emotional honesty not only improves your health, but also helps you to receive better quality of care from your family and your health care providers.

5 Ways To Release Pent-Up Emotions

  1. Seek help from a qualified counselor – a psychotherapist can assist you to offload all of that toxic rubbish you’ve been carrying around in your brain for so long.
  2. Go stand on a mountain top – or some other secluded place – and have a word with your Maker.  Pour out your heart.  Rest assured that your words will be heard.
  3. Find an Emotional Freedom Technique practitioner – I used this myself when going through breast cancer and it helped alleviate stress and anxiety to a huge degree.  Dr Mercola has an informative video on his site about this technique.
  4. Try meditation.  It is an inward journey that will help you to come to know yourself much better and helps to alleviate so much of the anxiety and fear surrounding a cancer diagnosis.
  5. Bodywork such as deep tissue massage and aromatherapy can help you release emotions that have been residing within you.

This is so worth doing – emotional toxicity causes so much disruption in our lives such as depression, insomnia, physical pain, and yes, cancer.  Seek some help, give yourself the best chance to heal.

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, 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.  

Johns Hopkins Advocates Integrated Cancer Care

 

Photo courtesy of rgbstock.com and hisks

Photo courtesy of rgbstock.com and hisks

Johns Hopkins Advocates Integrated Cancer Care

For those who were not able to attend the webinar put on by Johns Hopkins Medicine on December 17th, following please find my notes and ramblings from that webinar.  I hope you find them useful.

The webinar was titled Integrative Medicine: How Acupuncture, The Mind/Body Connection, Holistic Eating and Chinese Medicine and Other Modalities Can Help Survivors During and After Treatment.  Which is kind of a long-winded title, but they wanted to tell you exactly what they’d be covering and that title does the trick

Webinar Overview

The webinar was presented by Dr Linda Lee and Mr Jeff Gould and it ran for about an hour.  Dr Lee spoke about how the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine Center viewed integrative medicine as being the best of scientific medicine with a broader understanding of the nature of illness, that integrative medicine enhanced conventional medicine rather than replacing it.  They preferred the term “integrative” rather than “alternative” or “complementary” because alternative seeks an “alternate” approach to conventional medicine, it connotes a turning away, while the term complementary was too broad.

The Johns Hopkins website further defines integrative medicine: “Integrative medicine encompasses a broad range of therapeutic approaches to achieve optimal health and wellness for those who are ill or those who are concerned about disease prevention. It is a powerful resource for those seeking to participate actively in their healthcare.”

A Holistic Diet for Cancer Patients

Dr Lee spoke first and discussed holistic eating quite simply – she quoted author Michael Pollan, whose advice was to “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  I loved that – it says so much so succintly!

Dr Lee warned us against eating highly processed foods and too many food additives.  She said we should try not to eat too much meat, especially beef, and that we should strive for a balanced approach in our food choices.  Volumes could be written (and have been) about the best nutrition for cancer patients – for more definitive information, see my page Diet and Cancer.

Dr Lee addressed the concerns of those going through chemotherapy, she had some good advice for what to eat when you don’t feel like eating, for those taste bud issues and digestive problems.  She advised using a blender or food processor (I would say JUICER) and put your food into that.

She had no real recommendations about WHAT to put in the blender – other than you wouldn’t put a spaghetti dinner in there, for instance.  She just said it’s easier to process liquid foods like smoothies and shakes.  She recommended having multiple small meals, rather than 3 bigger meals per day.  Dr Lee recommended the book One Bite At A Time – Nourishing Recipes for Cancer Survivors and Their Friends by Rebecca Katz, which I’ve added to my Recommended Reading list.

I’ll go a little farther than these recommendations and direct you to my article Do You Know The Benefits of Juicers For Cancer Patients.

Dietary Myths in Cancer

Dr Lee discussed some of the dietary myths she had encountered from her patients – we’ll start with the myth, then Dr Lee’s refutal:

  1. Avoid sugar because it feeds cancer – this one surprised me because I do advocate avoiding sugar if you have active cancer in your body.  Dr Lee disagreed, saying a moderate amount of sugar is okay, it won’t cause your cancer to get bigger.  So, I’ve softened my stance on this a little bit and found a good article for you that discusses moderation.
  2. Eat whatever foods you want and as much of them as you like – eating as much as you like of something isn’t advisable if you’re undergoing chemotherapy and having digestive issues, smaller meals are better.
  3. Eat fried foods because they will give you more calories if you’ve lost weight during cancer treatment – Dr Lee advised fried foods are NOT a good idea because they increase nausea.
  4. Being overweight is better than being underweight – Not true for breast cancer, Dr Lee says.  Fat cells create estrogen and if you had/have estrogen receptor positive tumor(s) being overweight can actually cause more problems for you.

Vitamin Supplements

Dr Lee advised caution when taking vitamins – because adverse affects are not always known and they may have interactions with some of the drugs you are on.  She did not have anything against taking vitamins, she merely advised caution, suggesting a person see an herbalist or dietician for guidance (I’d say see a trained naturopath) and always let your oncologist know what you are doing.  Dr Lee suggested referring to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website.

Mind/Body Approach

My favorite part of the webinar was the discussion of how using mind/body medicine can help cancer patients.  Dr Lee went out on a limb and said that STRESS CAN AFFECT CANCER GROWTH.  I’ve been saying this for years and I was so glad to hear someone from the medical world acknowledge and affirm this.

Dr Lee advised that chronic emotional stress can have a negative impact on cancer, and she discussed how the hormones released during stressful periods affect inflammation, cellular immune response and other key factors and that getting stress treated was really important.  She advocated the use of one or more of the following therapies (all of which I also recommend on this site and in my newsletters):

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • tai chi
  • massage
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy
  • guided imagery
  • hypnotherapy
  • support groups
  • journaling
  • exercise

I found a good article for you from the Mayo Clinic which discusses exactly how stress hormones wreak havoc on our body.

Mr Jeff Gould On The Chinese Medicine Approach

The second part of the webinar was handed over to Jeff Gould, a Chinese medicine practitioner at the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine Center.  Mr Gould discussed many aspects of Chinese medicine, I will highlight the most interesting points he made:

    • Chinese medicine is what he termed individualized medicine. He might see 10 patients with breast cancer, but each patient may get a different treatment protocol based on the symptoms they present with on that day.
    • Chinese medicine is very holistic – practitioners don’t just treat physical symptoms (such as cancer), but also the emotional and spiritual aspects of a person.  He said one of his patients, in an effort to describe what they felt like after an acupuncture treatment, called it “a lightness of being”.  I thought that was a very good description.
    • Mr Gould called Chinese medicine a highly effective adjunct to Western medicine, it has been utilized quite effectively for over 3,000 years.
    • Mr Gould mentioned that the Chinese also use diet as a therapy – that Chinese medicine looks at the energetics of food vs the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.  They use food to promote health AND also to treat illness.  I was quite interested to find out that certain restaurants in China will have doctors who will greet you at the door, take a look at your vital signs (which are quite different to Western medicine – they are more likely to look at your tongue and take your pulses than to check your blood pressure, etc.) and then recommend certain things on the menu to assist with your current signs/symptoms.
    • When using Chinese herbs, your herbalist will tailor make a formula for you based on your unique constellation of symptoms and these are modified each week as symptoms change.
    • Mr Gould specifically mentioned chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, saying that the best time to treat that is BEFORE symptoms begin – he said it’s much easier to keep it from happening than to treat it after it has already happened.
    • We were reminded that herbs are drugs and as such, can have side effects and interactions with other drugs.  He also warned to use a trained herbalist when using herbs for any illness.
    • Mr Gould also did not recommend using Chinese medicine alone to treat cancer, but as an adjunct.

All in all, I thought it a very good webinar, well presented, and with good, concise information.  If you have any specific questions, please contact me.

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, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com).  It is my honor to help you through this.

Stress Hits An All-Time High – Here’s Some Relief

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and imagerymajestic

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and imagerymajestic

Everywhere I go this week, I’m running into people that are stressed.  And it’s only Monday!

For those of you who are stressed out, I put together this article today with some things that I hope will help.

There are some nice You Tube videos (links below) that will help you de-stress.

This first one features pressure points on your hands and collar bone that you can press to help relieve stress (they actually work): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPH0ihwVPkM&amp

Here’s one called How to Meditate in a Moment:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6eFFCi12v8

Here’s an hour worth of “Ocean Chill-Out Music” guaranteed to bring the stress down a few notches (skip the ad):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fz8yTq0cqhg&feature=related

Here’s a great one called “How to Calm Down in 10 Seconds”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xI3sVuH7rms

I feel better already just doing the research and finding the videos.  Hope it helps you too!

Remember to breathe.  And smile.  Everyone will wonder what you’re up to.

 If you’d like to stay connected, sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, 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.

I Have Always Said Breast Cancer is Caused By More Than One Thing…

 

breast cancer cells

Breast Cancer Cells

After watching my mother and grandmother go through breast cancer, reading more than 80 books and countless research articles on the subject and then going through it myself, I have long felt that breast cancer is caused by more than one thing.

So I was really interested to read a recent article in the Huffington Post entitled “Breast Cancer is 10 Different Diseases Landmark Study Finds“.

Landmark British Study

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Cambridge, Cancer Research UK, the University of Columbia, Canada and a number of other institutions worldwide. It was funded by Cancer Research UK, the British Columbia Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and published in the scientific journal “Nature”.

The study examined variations in DNA in nearly 2,000 breast tumors in what was the largest such study of breast cancer tissue in the world, the culmination of decades of work.

The Familiar 4 Subgroups of Breast Cancer

The researchers decided that the term “breast cancer” should be an umbrella term for what appeared to them to be at least 10 quite different diseases.  Up until now, breast cancer had been classified into four subgroups:

  1. Double positive cancers that had high levels of both estrogen and progesterone receptors on tumor cells
  2. Tumors that exhibit high levels of either ER or PR receptors
  3. Double negative cancers that had neither estrogen or progesterone receptors
  4. Tumors that exhibit high levels of HER2, a protein discovered in the 90’s that appears to drive breast cancer in some women

More Articles…

The Huffington Post article was rather disappointing to me because it did not list the other 6 new subgroups, leading me to search further afield.

Britain’s Daily Mail had the article as well and I got a few more tidbits of information:

  • because further research was required, it would be 3-5 years before women with breast cancer would start reaping the benefits of more targeted treatments
  • researchers were pleased because they were closer to their goal for women to receive tailor-made treatments specific to their particular type of breast cancer
  • researchers hoped to speed up the search for more targeted therapy for triple negative breast cancer

The Daily Mail article said “The ‘exquisitely detailed’ analysis also revealed several new genes that drive the growth and spread of the disease. This opens the door for the development of drugs that counter their effects. Knowledge of the genetics of each type of the disease will also speed the development of drugs, allowing women to have treatments tailored to their tumor. A handful of such ‘wonder-drugs’, including Herceptin, are already in use.”

Still no mention of the other 6 subgroups.

Finally an Answer

I spent a few hours reading articles and finally found the very best one that described the 10 clusters or subgroups of breast cancer.  Click here to read this terrific article, written by Henry Scowcroft of scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org. It’s a long one, but worth reading.  Scroll down the page to the paragraph titled “The ten clusters”. There’s no point in my describing the other 6 subgroups of breast cancer when he’s done such a beautiful job of it.

I loved the fact that the researchers were making it a priority to focus on the links between the immune system and cancer, something I’ve felt for a long time should be a primary focus when treating breast cancer.

I would also like to see research being done relating to how stress plays a part in the development of breast cancer.  Nearly every single survivor I’ve spoken to has admitted to me that stress was a huge factor in their lives leading up to the discovery of their breast cancer.  It was the same for me.

So – we’ll have to wait awhile for the results of this study and it won’t help the women going through breast cancer right now, but certainly future generations will reap the benefits.

One other question comes to mind – while I’m grateful to Britain’s researchers for doing this kind of work I do wonder why it’s so frequently British and Australian researchers that are making great strides in breast cancer.  What the heck is going on in American research labs?

Resources:
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/19/breast-cancer-cancer-research-uk-disease-10-categories-dr-harpal-kumar_n_1436498.html?ref=uk#slide=831773
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2131616/Breast-cancer-treatment-British-study-classifies-disease-10-different-types.html
http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/04april/Pages/breast-cancer-genetic-diversity-mapped.aspx

Increasing the resolution on breast cancer – the METABRIC study

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