Taking the Scare Out of Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions

If you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, that alone can scare the heck out of you. Then, to make matters worse, you’re expected to make a bunch of decisions about the treatments being offered to you for the type of breast cancer you have. I mean, let’s face it – you just found out you have breast cancer. Now you’re expected to make some really important decisions based on what your doctor is telling you. It’s enough to send you looney, and it’s no wonder people often make decisions they later come to regret. Let me help you take the scare out of breast cancer treatment decisions.

Let’s slow it all down, shall we? Watch my video. You have time to make these decisions. In all likelihood, your tumor has been growing for a number of years. Taking a little time out to come to terms with (a) the fact that you’ve been diagnosed, (b) the fact that you have a bunch of important decisions to make, and (c) you have no idea what you’re doing. Taking a little time will not hurt in the long run. Just don’t get stuck in that place and make no decisions at all – that wouldn’t be a good thing.

If you need help, send me a message. I have loads of resources and articles for you to delve into. I am available for coaching – call it information gathering. Whatever you want to call it, I can help. Don’t go through this alone.

The MammaPrint® Test, a Tumor Profiler

Gene expression tests can be a very good way to learn more about your particular form of breast cancer. Based on the information these tests provide, your doctor can then decide how best to treat your cancer, or even choose no further treatment after surgery.

Gene expression tests are not the same thing as genetic testing, which is done using a sample of blood, saliva, or other tissue. Genetic testing is generally carried out to ascertain whether a person has a mutation (abnormal change) in a gene that is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, such as BRCA1/2.

The MammaPrint test is one such gene expression test, also known as a tumor profiler. It was created by Agendia, a privately-held company in Amsterdam that develops and markets genomic diagnostic products.

How the MammaPrint test works

After you have had your breast cancer surgery or a biopsy, some tissue from the tumor is sent for examination. They look at the activity level of 70 different genes known to be associated with breast cancer. After examining the tissue, a recurrence score is then calculated which will tell whether you are at low risk or high risk for recurrence. Based on that information, your doctor can then decide whether any further treatments would be beneficial to you after surgery.

The Best Candidates for the MammaPrint Test

those with stage I or stage II breast tumors
those with invasive tumors
those whose tumors are smaller than 5 cm
those who had cancer cells in three or fewer lymph nodes
those with both hormone-receptor-positive or hormone-receptor-negative tumor cells
the tissue must be taken during the original biopsy or surgery

There are several other tumor profiling tests used to analyze breast cancer, including the Oncotype DX test, which has been validated by more research. The Oncotype DX test is presently the most widely used genomic test for breast cancer.

What is the Cost?

In the United States, the cost of the MammaPrint test ranges between USD$3,000 to $4000. It is covered by US Medicare and some private health insurance, depending on whether the individual’s breast cancer matches the test’s parameters. Be sure to ask your health insurance company if you are covered, should you be considering having the MammaPrint test.

Also, be aware that Agendia offers a reimbursement assistance program to help you with your insurance claim. If you don’t have insurance or your insurance company doesn’t cover the MammaPrint test, Agendia may still be able to help. Contact one of their patient advocate representatives by phone at 1-888-363-7868 or email at billing@agendia.com.

Unfortunately, in Australia, the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) did not support public (government) funding for the MammaPrint test. They based that decision on a review of the safety, clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness of the test.

According to an Australian government website [1], “MSAC based its conclusion on its appraisal of a study known as the MINDACT trial which investigated the use of the MammaPrint® test in a clinical trial setting.

The trial aimed to show whether information provided by the MammaPrint® test could be added to existing clinical information to inform decisions about the use of adjuvant chemotherapy for early breast cancer. The trial showed that, overall, breast cancer outcomes were poorer in women who did not have chemotherapy based on the MammaPrint® test, compared with those who received chemotherapy.

“As a result, MSAC had little confidence that the MammaPrint® test could be used to justify withholding chemotherapy without negatively impacting upon important outcomes, including overall survival.

The MammaPrint test is available to Australia patients, but patients must pay the cost of it themselves, there are no government subsidies.

MammaPrint Research

We do have quite a bit of research [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7] on the MammaPrint test, which suggests that it may be useful to help make treatment decisions based on the expression of certain genes, as to the risk of the cancer returning within 10 years after diagnosis.

One 2019 review of medical studies [8] found that all of the tests analyzed (including MammaPrint) were able to provide prognostic information on the risk of relapse, but that the results were more varied in those patients with positive lymph nodes than for those with node-negative disease.

If you have been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and are trying to decide whether or not adding chemotherapy to your treatment plan would be beneficial, the MammaPrint test may be of very real assistance to help you and your doctor make that decision.

References:

[1] https://breast-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/treatment/mammaprint-70-gene-signature-test/questions-patients-about-mammaprint

[2] 2016: Special Plenary Session: Results of the MINDACT Clinical Trial – http://winconsortium.org/files/O4.5-SPECIAL-PLENARY-SESSION-Results-of-MINDACT-clinical-trial-Suzette-Delaloge.pdf
[3] 2017: The Era of Multigene Panels Comes? The Clinical Utility of Oncotype DX and MammaPrint – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5649994/
[4] 2019: MammaPrint and BluePrint Molecular Diagnostics Using Targeted RNA Next-Generation Sequencing Technology – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31173928
[5] 2019: Multigene expression signatures in early hormone receptor positive HER 2 negative breast cancer – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31553709
[6] 2019: Prospective, multicenter study on the economic and clinical impact of gene-expression assays in early-stage breast cancer from a single region: the PREGECAM registry experience – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31300934
[7] 2019: Prospective Validation of a Genomic Assay in Breast Cancer: The 70-gene MammaPrint Assay and the MINDACT Trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31264430

 

[8] Tumour profiling tests to guide adjuvant chemotherapy decisions in early breast cancer: a systematic review and economic analysis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31264581

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books. 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.

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The Merits, or Otherwise, of Ten Years of Aromatase Inhibitors

 

If you have been diagnosed with hormone receptor positive breast cancer, meaning that the cancer cells were shown to be fueled by estrogen, and sometimes progesterone, no doubt as part of your post-surgery treatment plan, your doctor recommended that you take hormone inhibiting drugs. You would have been recommended to take either Tamoxifen, which blocks the action of estrogen and is normally offered to premenopausal women, or an aromatase inhibitor like Femara, Arimidex, Aromasin or Evista, which block the production of estrogen, and are normally offered to postmenopausal women.

You probably then went to the Internet, had a look at the side effects of these drugs, and got worried. It seems that taking them for five years was hard enough – so what are the merits or pitfalls of taking them for ten years?

For Tamoxifen, a study released In 2012 [1] found that extending treatment with Tamoxifen from five years to ten years reduced both recurrence of and death from breast cancer. Because of this study, many women have been recommended to continue on with Tamoxifen for ten years rather than five.

For those taking aromatase inhibitors, however, many wondered if the findings about Tamoxifen could be extrapolated to aromatase inhibitors. A study published in 2016 [2] in the New England Journal of Medicine investigated whether or not extending the taking of the aromatase inhibitor letrozole (Femara) from five to ten years for women with hormone receptor positive breast cancer would be beneficial.

1,918 postmenopausal women were enrolled in the trial and half of them were assigned to either take letrozole for five additional years (after already taking it for five years), the other half were given a placebo. 959 women were treated with letrozole for ten years and compared with 959 women who took letrozole for five years and a placebo for five years. On average, the participants were followed for just over six years so that researchers could examine their recurrence rates in the same breast, or a new breast cancer diagnosis in the opposite breast. They also looked at overall survival and quality of life.

Researchers found that although there was a “statistically significant” improvement in disease-free survival (women experiencing neither a recurrence in the same breast nor a new diagnosis in the other breast), for women taking the letrozole there was no difference in actual survival at the five year mark. So in effect this means that 91% of women who did not take the letrozole for the additional five years were disease-free five years later and 94% of women who did take letrozole for an additional five years were disease-free five years later. That’s a difference of 3% between the two groups, with no difference in overall survival. The study was partly funded by Novartis, the maker of letrozole.

Those Pesky Side Effects

The problem is that there are significant side effects from hormone blocking medications. The side effects and toxicity of Tamoxifen and the aromatase inhibitors are rather different, but each definitely has a significant impact on health and quality of life for a large percentage of the women who take these drugs.

In my experience as a health coach, a small percentage of women tolerate these treatments fairly well, but for most, these drugs come with fairly severe side effects. Many women stop the medication before completing the recommended course due to life-altering side effects. What are some of the most common side effects? Here’s a partial list:

• joint pain and stiffness, feelings of being far older than you actually are
• muscle pain and weakness, leg cramps
• bone pain, bone fractures, higher risk for osteoporosis
• hot flashes and night sweats
• headaches
• dizziness
• vaginal dryness and loss of libido
• uterine lining abnormalities, and a higher risk for needing hysterectomy
• tiredness, fatigue, lethargy
• anxiety, depression (sometimes severe)
• vision changes, dry eyes, damage to cornea and retina
• insomnia
• weight gain
• loss of mental acuity and brain fog
• hair thinning
• blood clots and pulmonary embolisms
• fatty liver

I believe that any treatment which fails to significantly improve overall survival while at the same time exposing women to that many serious side effects should be considered very carefully. It’s also important to know that the World Health Organization considers Tamoxifen to be a human carcinogen.

I believe we need our estrogen, keeping it in balance is the key. Many women are not even checked to see what their estrogen levels are after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have taken their toll – they are just told that blocking the action of estrogen is imperative and they “need” to take these drugs to improve their chance of survival.

The Many Functions of Estrogen

Besides its functions in reproductive health, which can be found in any book on the subject, here’s what our body’s own estrogen also does for us [3]:

• helps maintain body temperature
• involved in energy production in the body including muscles
• enhances the effects of certain neurotransmitters, the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals, so intimately involved in mood regulation
• improves the thickness and quality of skin, as well as collagen content
• alters disposition of fat cells around abdomen
• helps to preserve bone strength
• prevents bone loss
• promotes pancreatic health and regulates insulin secretion
• regulates cholesterol production in the liver, so has cardioprotective properties
• maintains vaginal health
• affects vascular tone and blood flow in organs and tissues, including the eyes
• protective to brain and nervous system

The Role of Xenoestrogens in Hormone Receptor Positive Breast Cancer

I believe that xenoestrogens (environmental estrogens, known hormone disrupters) are much more dangerous to our health than our body’s own estrogen, and I’m not alone. In the book “Molecules of Emotion“, author and scientist Candace Pert stated “… 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 continues with this line of thought, stating “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.”

Dr Pert is not alone in these thoughts. Countless others have seen the problems associated with xenoestrogens on hormonal health. It is my belief that we need to start there – by detoxifying our food, our body products, our household cleaning supplies, etc. See my article for more information.

Bottom Line: Please evaluate the potential benefits and harms of hormone blocking medications, and talk to your health care provider about your concerns. Please be aware that estrogen is not the only factor involved in breast cancer. For a tumor to begin growing, and to be allowed to continue to grow, a good many things have to go wrong first. A good overall anti-cancer strategy would be to eat a healthy diet full of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, include particular super foods, take supplements that have research backing them (see my page discussing that), detox your household from toxic skin care, hair care and household cleaning products, get plenty of exercise every day, and keep your stress levels down. If you’d like my help putting together a personalized program, I’d be happy to assist you. You might like to consider my coaching services.

References:

[1] 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 – https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)61963-1/fulltext

[2] Extending Aromatase-Inhibitor Adjuvant Therapy to 10 Years – https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1604700

[3] The Role of Estrogens in Control of Energy Balance and Glucose Homeostasis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3660717/

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent 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.

The Impact of Intermittent Fasting for Breast Cancer Patients

The Impact of Intermittent Fasting for Breast Cancer Patients

If fasting is a new concept to you, it might not sound like much fun because we are conditioned to eat frequently. However, if you are actively battling breast cancer, or are a breast cancer survivor, there are ample reasons for choosing to fast now and then, and today I’m going to share with you exactly what fasting can do for you.

To fast is to purposely withhold food for a finite period of time. Fasting is nothing new – it was used by our ancient ancestors for millennia. Whether they were fasting due to the scarcity of food, or for spiritual or healing reasons, our ancestors frequently utilized fasting. Fasting only fell out of favor as a method of healing in recent decades. Doctors who practiced in the earlier part of the 20th century knew about the benefits of fasting and frequently prescribed it for their patients.

There are at least 19 science-backed reasons for fasting [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]. Fasting has the ability to:

  1. Stimulate genetic healing mechanisms
  2. Turn off “bad” genes
  3. Regenerate the immune system
  4. Stimulate autophagy, the body’s ability to break down old cells and reuse them to make new cells
  5. Regenerate healthy stem cells
  6. Reduce chronic inflammation (and cancer is an inflammatory process)
  7. Help reset and optimize hormone levels
  8. Create more efficient energy
  9. Take stress off digestive system, regenerate tight junctions in the gut, repair gut microbiome
  10. Decrease healing and repair times because energy isn’t being used to digest food
  11. Improve cell-to-cell communication
  12. Enhance fat burning and weight loss
  13. Optimize release of human growth hormone
  14. Improve cognitive function and mental health
  15. Help body rid itself of viruses, bacteria and fungi
  16. Help body make stronger, healthier, more stress-resistant cells
  17. Improve insulin sensitivity
  18. Reduce chronic disease risk
  19. Improve your relationship with food

What Happens During Intermittent Fasting?

When you are fasting and only drinking water, you use up immediately available sources of energy in the form of glucose. Once the glucose is burned, glycogen stored in the liver is burned. Once those two are depleted, the body is forced to use stored fats for energy, a process known as ketosis. It is important to note that muscle proteins are NOT used for fuel during fasting. This only occurs during periods of starvation or certain disease processes, but not when you are fasting intermittently.

Fasting to Reduce Breast Cancer Recurrence

We have several studies that indicate fasting for short periods of time is especially beneficial to reduce risk of breast cancer. [6], [7] One of the most compelling studies appeared in 2016 in the journal JAMA Oncology [7]. Researchers investigated the benefits of fasting with breast cancer survivors, analyzing data from the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study. They found that those women who fasted for at least 13 hours overnight had a huge 36% risk reduction for breast cancer recurrence. 13 was definitely the “lucky” number – fasting for only 12 hours did not have the same effects of risk reduction.

The lead author of the study, Dr Catherine Marinac, stated “Increasing the duration of overnight fasting could be a novel strategy to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. This is a simple dietary change that we believe most women can understand and adopt. It may have a big impact on public health without requiring complicated counting of calories or nutrients.”

For one thing, blood sugar levels decrease with prolonged periods of fasting. Researchers found that women who fasted for longer periods of time overnight had better blood glucose control. Each 3-hour increase in overnight fasting was associated with a 4% lower glucose level, regardless of how much women ate.

The best part is that fasting doesn’t cost a thing – just your dedication. 13 hours of fasting is pretty easy to do. You simply stop eating at a predetermined time, say 7:00 pm (the time you begin is up to you), and have nothing but water until 8:00 am the next day when you break your fast. Most of that time you’ll be asleep, so 13 hours of fasting poses no real difficulty. I’m speaking from experience, I do this almost every day and it’s easy. Fasting for longer than 13 hours provides even more benefits, although it can be more challenging to do. Read on.

Regenerating Healthy Stem Cells with Fasting

Stem cells are the cells that give rise to other necessary cells. They are basically building blocks for cells and their role is to create different types of cells. They do this by dividing – when a stem cell divides, each new cell will either be a stem cell or will morph into one of many different cells such as muscle, nerve, red blood cells, and so on. These are specialized cells required for growth and repair, they help rebuild damaged or diseased tissues.

Creating healthy stem cells is super important for breast cancer survivors, because if you’ve been through the gamut of conventional medicine like chemotherapy or radiation, it has been observed that those two therapies induce cancer stem cells – stem cells that give rise to more cancer. Also, increasingly, there exists a rare sub-population of cancer stem cells which are resistant to chemotherapy. [8], [9]

So when I found out that intermittent fasting helped to create healthy stem cells, I knew you’d want to know about this. Here’s what I found out. In order to promote healthy stem cells using intermittent fasting, you need to fast for at least 2 days. 3 days of fasting appears to work even better. For more information, see the section “Here’s How to Go About Longer Periods of Fasting”, below.

Regenerating the Immune System with Fasting

A 2014 clinical study [10] asked participants to fast for 2-4 days on a regular basis over a 6-month period. Researchers found that there was a significant decrease in the production of PKA, an enzyme associated with an increased risk of cancer and tumor growth. There was also a reduction in Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), known to promote each of the key stages of cancer development including growth of cancer cells, blood vessel growth in cancerous tissue, and spread (metastasis). As if that weren’t enough, researchers also found that the immune systems of the participants appeared to regenerate. These findings are especially exciting for those who have had their immune systems blasted away by chemotherapy and radiation.

Professor Valter Longo, lead researcher of the study, said “When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged.” This is a process called autophagy. According to the study’s findings, by fasting for 3 days, followed by eating a healthy diet full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, this regenerates the cells of the immune system.

The study’s co-author, Dr Tanya Dorff, stated “While chemotherapy saves lives, it causes significant collateral damage to the immune system. The results of this study suggest that fasting may mitigate some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy. More clinical studies are needed, and any such dietary intervention should be undertaken only under the guidance of a physician.”

Intermittent Fasting Improves Chemotherapy

Cancer patients are generally told to eat whatever they want when undergoing chemotherapy. It’s pretty bad advice, too. Integrative oncologists and oncology naturopaths know better, and advise their patients undergoing chemotherapy to eat loads of fruits and vegetables to help offset the collateral damage of chemotherapy. We are also finding out that intermittent fasting can assist. For cancer patients, water fasting for 2-3 days prior to treatment and up to 1 day following treatment not only helps the chemotherapy work better, but it reduces treatment-related side effects and toxicity. Several studies [11], [12], [13], [14] have found that short-term fasting retards cancer growth, selectively protects normal cells from chemotherapy toxicity, and does not interfere with the therapeutic effect of the chemotherapy. Prior to fasting, however, please ask your oncologist if you are well enough and strong enough to do this.

Here’s How to Go About Longer Periods of Fasting

If shorter periods of fasting – from 12-16 hours – goes well for you, and you have stable blood sugar levels and your doctor says it’s okay, try some longer periods of fasting. They will definitely be more challenging for you, but if you are wanting to improve stem cell regeneration and immunity, this is definitely worth pursuing. You will probably notice that the first few hours goes just fine, but as you approach lunch time and dinner time, your body is going to expect to be fed. You will be uncomfortable at times. It’s crucial to prepare yourself mentally prior to fasting. See below for other tips on longer periods of fasting for ideas on how to get through it.

36 Hours of Fasting – 1-1/2 days

With this fast, it is recommended that you eat your last meal on a Saturday night (this is optional – the days you choose are up to you), fast all day on Sunday, and break the fast on Monday morning with some green juice. During this fast, you can have all the water you wish – filtered water or sparkling water from glass bottles is best. You may add the following things to your water (they are optional):

• occasional addition of a tiny bit of sea salt or pink Himalayan salt, which helps to replace lost electrolytes and minerals – useful if you get any muscle cramping while fasting
• a wedge of fresh lemon or lime for a little flavor and antioxidants
• a drop of your choice of essential oil (citrus oils are nice) for flavor and antioxidants
• 1 teaspoonful of coconut oil or a cup of non-sweetened herbal tea – only if you are really struggling with fasting and feeling quite hungry

3 Days of Fasting

This is the fast recommended for stem cell renewal and immune system regeneration. This one could be done monthly or even quarterly, or time it to changes of season. For this fast, you can drink as much filtered water as you like, herbal teas and organic bone broth. To prepare your body for this longer fast, it is recommended for the 2-3 days prior to fasting that you eat a healthy, mainly organic, raw food diet so that there are plenty of antioxidants and phytochemicals present in your body to aid the renewal process. Make sure blood sugar levels are well balanced. Be sure to read “8 Tips for Longer Fasts” below.

8 Tips for Longer Fasts

  1. If you have diabetes (any type), you should speak to your doctor to see if longer periods of fasting are safe for you. For many, it will be okay and probably even encouraged because decreasing levels of glucose are good for you and fasting creates this. Some doctors (especially integrative doctors) believe that intermittent fasting and low carbohydrate or ketogenic diets are one of the best ways to deal with diabetes.
  2. If you have cancer and also have cachexia (muscle wasting), longer periods of fasting may not be the best thing for you, so be sure to ask your doctor about it prior to undertaking fasting. For you, it may be better to do daily fasting (for instance the 13 hour fast discussed above).
  3. If you get the go-ahead from your doctor for fasting, prior to doing an extended fast, transition into eating a healthy, mainly organic, plant-based diet and reduce meat eating. This will give your body the building blocks it needs to keep going during the fast.
  4. Water drinking helps to suppress that feeling of hunger and you can drink as much water as you wish. Fill yourself up with water when fasting – take a big mouthful because that is similar to eating a mouthful of food – it keeps your digestive tract working. It will also make you urinate a lot, but that’s a god thing, it helps with the detoxification process.
  5. Create an environment that is conducive to rest and fasting. Don’t plan on doing much during this 3 days of fasting. Give yourself permission to rest and relax. If you can, take time off work, perhaps go into the country where you can be out in nature and breathe in clean air, and focus on your body’s healing. Stay away from stress as much as possible – both physical and mental. Consider this a healing break. We should all be doing this!
  6. During those times when you are struggling with fasting, employing mind-body techniques like yoga and meditation really help to take your mind off the urge to eat. Or go for a gentle stroll outside.
  7. When you do resume eating, go slow. If you have fasted for 3 days, take the next 3 days to eat really mindfully, avoiding prepackaged and GMO foods. Avoid stuffing yourself full of any food, because after fasting for 3 days, your body will have decreased amounts of digestive enzymes, so don’t go out and eat a steak dinner. Allow at least one full day of slowly reintroducing food that is easy to digest like fresh juices (not bottled), kefir water, herbal teas, fruits, fermented foods for your gut, freshly prepared vegetable soups, and organic bone broth. Take digestive enzymes to help you digest the food you do eat.
  8. Especially avoid eating junk food when you resume eating. As you begin to incorporate intermittent fasting into your life, you will notice that the junk food cravings ease over time anyway.

Mix Up Periods of Intermittent Fasting

Various studies have found that the best benefits of fasting occur when people mix up the types of fasting they do – it keeps their bodies constantly having to adapt and that appears to work very well for us. In other words, rather than keeping with the exact same type of fasting you always do, choose one day to fast for 16 hours, then several days later you could fast for 14 hours. Occasionally, do the 36-hour fast and quarterly, do the 3-day fast.

As you can see, intermittent fasting has some very real applications for the cancer patient. By combining a healthy organic diet with exercising at least 30 minutes per day, and doing some intermittent fasting, you can reduce inflammation, promote healthy stem cells, replenish your immune system – and all of these are vital for reducing breast cancer risk/recurrence. So start to develop your fasting discipline (and make no mistake, it is a discipline) – I think you’re going to love how you feel afterward.

References:

[1] Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3946160/

[2] Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5411330/

[3] Fasting therapy for treating and preventing disease – current state of evidence – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24434759

[4] Fasting and cancer treatment in humans: A case series report – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2815756/

[5] Calorie restriction and cancer prevention: metabolic and molecular mechanisms – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829867/

[6] Biomarkers of dietary energy restriction in women at increased risk of breast cancer – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19656771

[7] Prolonged Nightly Fasting and Breast Cancer Prognosis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4982776/

[8] Radiation induces the generation of cancer stem cells: A novel mechanism for cancer radioresistance – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5103903/

[9] Therapeutic resistance and tumor-initiation: Molecular pathways involved in breast cancer stem cell self-renewal – https://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/jco.2007.25.18_suppl.528

[10] Prolonged Fasting Reduces IGF-1/PKA to Promote Hematopoietic-Stem-Cell-Based Regeneration and Reverse Immunosuppression – https://www.cell.com/cell-stem-cell/fulltext/S1934-5909(14)00151-9?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS1934590914001519%3Fshowall%3Dtrue

[11] Fasting and differential chemotherapy protection in patients – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048045/

[12] Fasting vs dietary restriction in cellular protection and cancer treatment: from model organisms to patients – https://www.nature.com/articles/onc201191

[13] Fasting Cycles Retard Growth of Tumors and Sensitize a Range of Cancer Cell Types to Chemotherapy – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3608686/

[14] Fasting Enhances the Response of Glioma to Chemo- and Radiotherapy – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439413/

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent 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.

Tips for Coping with Chemotherapy Hair Loss


Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net

Tips for Coping with Chemotherapy Hair Loss

For anyone going through chemotherapy and coping with the loss of their beautiful hair,  I feel for you – this is a hard thing! Our hair is so much a reflection of our personal style. It’s an important part of our appearance, our crowning glory! So losing it through chemotherapy is often a very difficult part of the breast cancer journey.

One of the questions I am frequently asked is “How long will it take to grow back?”. There are other questions too, such as what the best options are for looking good while going through this part of your journey, and how best to assist the regrowth process once the chemotherapy is over. Hopefully this article, and the one to which I have linked, will answer these questions for you.

Helpful Resource

We have a very good resource at the CancerLiving.today website. I was just made aware recently of this website and it is full of helpful information. Their article Chemotherapy and Coping with Hair Loss has some wonderful tips in it. First of all, it explains why chemotherapy causes loss of hair, what to expect when you’re going through chemotherapy (with regard to hair loss), a discussion of cold caps as a possible method of  prevention of hair loss, coping psychologically while you’re going through this, and things you can do to look good while you’re going through chemotherapy. It’s a well-written article. CHECK IT OUT HERE.

Specific Foods to Stimulate Hair Regrowth

Once chemotherapy has finished, there are a number of things you can eat that will help your body with the nutrients it needs to recreate a healthy head of hair. B vitamins, fresh or frozen berries like raspberries, strawberries, blueberries; sweet potatoes;  maqui berry powder; goji berries or juice; acai; broccoli and spinach;  avocados; nuts and seeds; bell peppers (capsicum);  beans and legumes (including soybeans); eggs and other protein sources like meat (if you’re a meat eater), or a high quality protein powder. These are all (with exception of the meat) potent breast cancer fighters as well.

Essential Oils Stimulate Hair Regrowth

Now then, because I’m essential oil aficionado, I’m also going to teach you which essential oils and carrier oils you can massage into your scalp to help with the regrowth process! Please always choose organically grown oils to cut down the hormone-disrupting chemicals with which you come into contact.

Particular essential oils are exceedingly helpful for hair loss (all kinds – not just from chemotherapy) because they (a) help to oxygenate the scalp, (b) increase circulation of the scalp, and (c) stimulate cell metabolism and the growth of hair. Essential oils won’t increase the number of hair follicles you were born with, but they can certainly improve the regrowth process once chemotherapy has finished.

I do not recommend the use of hair loss formulas (I won’t name names, but you know what I’m talking about) because all of the ones with which I am acquainted have toxic ingredients you do not want anywhere near your scalp. Eating well and using essential oils are a much better option, Mother Nature intended them for our use. They are filled with healing phytochemicals (natural, plant-based chemicals) that are wonderfully beneficial for our health in a myriad of ways. Combined with specific carrier oils (listed below), essential oils are amazing for helping the hair regrowth process.

The best essential oils for hair regrowth are:

  1. Carrot seed
  2. Cedarwood
  3. Clary sage
  4. Clove
  5. Cypress
  6. German chamomile
  7. Helichrysum
  8. Lavender
  9. Rosemary
  10. Thyme
  11. Ylang ylang

The best carrier oils for hair regrowth are:

  1. Apricot kernel
  2. Argan
  3. Avocado
  4. Castor
  5. Coconut
  6. Hemp
  7. Jojoba
  8. Olive
  9. Tamanu

Use a dark glass bottle with glass dripper like this

Essential Oil Hair Regrowth Recipe  

2 tbsp your choice of carrier oils
4-6 drops your choice of essential oils
1/2 tsp vitamin E oil

Combine carrier oils, essential oils and vitamin E in a small glass bottle with a glass dripper  (as shown above) and apply several drops to scalp, massaging into the scalp for 3 or 4 minutes once or twice daily. Better yet, get your partner or friend to do this – ever so much nicer!

Chemotherapy-induced hair loss can be traumatic, but just know it won’t last forever and you can assist your body, your mind, and your spirit to overcome it. Essential oils and specific foods are a wonderful way to help your body through this process.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent 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.

The Problem with Taking Antidepressants Along with Tamoxifen

https://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.

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