How to Cope with the Anxiety of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

For those who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and are suffering from anxiety – fear – hopelessness – whatever you’re feeling, I created this video, How to Cope with the Anxiety of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis, for you.

It’s just a little over 3 minutes long – please listen right through to the end because I share some important information throughout the video. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave your comment either on this website or underneath the YouTube video, and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.

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

Using Progesterone for Breast Cancer

Artwork by xymonau/rgbstock.com

Since many of my thrivers have expressed an interest in learning more about the role of progesterone, this article will share all about using progesterone for breast cancer, and why you may want to consider it.

Many studies have established that an insufficiency in the hormone progesterone can increase breast cancer risk. Because there is an interplay between the hormones estrogen and progesterone, low progesterone levels can lead to a condition known as estrogen dominance, which simply means too much estrogen in relation to progesterone. This can also increase breast cancer risk.

Natural Progesterone Slows Breast Cancer

If one has been diagnosed with hormone-driven breast cancer, knowing how the two hormones work can be life-changing. Yet it is usually not even discussed by our oncologists.

In 2015, scientists from the United Kingdom, Australia and the USA published a joint study that had some interesting findings. They determined that unlike synthetic progesterone, which can increase the risk of breast and other cancers, natural progesterone has the ability to slow or shrink the growth of breast cancer tumors. [1] Since then, another study had similar findings [2].

You’ll notice a lot of discussion about estrogen and progesterone receptors in that study, so allow me to explain what they are, and how they work.

About Estrogen and Progesterone Receptors

For years, researchers in breast cancer have understood that most breast tumors (about 2/3 of those diagnosed) exhibit both estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors on their surfaces. When it occurs, this is known as ER positive (ER+) and PR positive (PR+) breast cancer, and these types of cells have been deemed to have better treatment results than tumors that do not have these receptors.

This is how they work. Estrogen and progesterone receptors are found in many of the cells of our bodies, including the breast. They are the mechanism by which hormones (chemical messengers) are allowed to change the behavior of cells. Once hormones have docked with the cells via the receptor sites, they can change how particular tissues and organs function.

What occurs is that when an estrogen or progesterone molecule comes into contact with its respective receptor, the molecule docks with the receptor and activates it. When this happens, the receptor enters the nucleus of a cell and attaches to specific places on chromosomes that contain all of that cell’s genetic coding, in effect turning on or off specific genes that govern the behavior of that cell. This effect happens constantly – if the body has enough estrogen and progesterone to activate the receptors.

While researchers know how estrogen receptors act on cancer cells, they have spent a lot less time learning about what progesterone receptors do in those same cells, so the researchers in that 2015 study mentioned above [1] set out to rectify that lack of understanding.

In test tube studies, the researchers took breast cancer cells that were ER+/PR+ and exposed them to enough estrogen and progesterone to activate both types of receptors. They then examined what the receptors did within the cancer cells. Surprisingly, when activated the progesterone receptors attached to estrogen receptors. This reprogrammed the estrogen receptors to cease turning on genes that promote cancer cell growth. Instead, the receptors turned on genes that promoted apoptosis (cancer cell death) and promoted growth of normal, healthy cells. How cool is that? But wait – there’s more.

To see what would happen in vivo (in the body) the researchers ran tests on breast cancer tumors in live mice that had been implanted with ER+/PR+ breast tumors. Some mice were exposed to estrogen only, while others were exposed to both estrogen and progesterone. A third group received no hormones at all. After 25 days, researchers found that the mice receiving estrogen only exhibited tumor growth, while the size of the tumors in the mice that received both estrogen and progesterone decreased. Also, the researchers gave Tamoxifen (a pharmaceutical drug that inhibits estrogen) to some of the mice that had also been treated with progesterone. They compared the tumors of these mice to the tumors of the mice that received progesterone but not Tamoxifen, and while tumor growth was reduced in both groups of mice, the mice treated with both progesterone and Tamoxifen experienced the greatest tumor growth reduction. The cancer cells were about 50 percent smaller when given a mix of progesterone and Tamoxifen than those given Tamoxifen alone. That’s pretty significant.

The only problem with using Tamoxifen is its long list of potentially serious side effects.

So what form of progesterone was used in the research? (I can hear you asking) Natural, bioidentical progesterone – not synthetic progestins, which are molecularly altered in a laboratory and have been linked with increased risk of breast and other cancers.

Dr John R Lee’s Research

This isn’t really news for those who have read the 2002 book “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer” by Dr John R Lee, M.D., a pioneer and expert in the study and use of natural progesterone to treat hormonal imbalances. Co written with Dr David Zava, a biochemist and breast cancer researcher, the pair found that:

  1. Women with low progesterone levels and estrogen dominance are more likely to get breast cancer and have poorer treatment outcomes.
  2. When progesterone levels are brought up to normal, healthy levels, this turns on genes that are able to prevent breast cancer, as well as reducing the size of existing tumors.

Dr Lee had 3 rules for bioidentical hormone therapy [3]:

  1. Only take natural bioidentical hormones if you are truly deficient (don’t just guess at this, get yourself tested);
  2. Use bioidentical hormones rather than synthetic hormones;
  3. Only use enough bioidentical hormones to bring your levels up to normal – more is not better.

Dr Lee has been quoted many times as saying that women with hormone receptor positive breast cancers could especially benefit from natural progesterone supplementation. Yet his findings have long been ignored by the medical community, until this 2015 research [1] came along. To this day, many oncologists refuse to let their breast cancer patients use natural, bioidentical progesterone because they just don’t understand how it works.

Why Do Hormones Get Out of Balance in the First Place?

Hormonal imbalances among the general population have reached what some consider to be epidemic proportions. The main factors for this are poor diet, rising obesity levels, stress, lack of exercise, xenoestrogens in the environment (mainly caused by hormone-altering chemicals), all of which are causing many women to suffer from estrogen dominance.

If you suspect you have a hormonal imbalance, or if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Get your hormone levels tested. In particular work with a doctor or naturopath who is trained in the use of natural, bioidentical hormones (meaning, it’s probably not a good idea to have your local general practitioner do this test as they will probably do a blood test, the results of which will be misleading). Generally, the more accurate testing is done via a saliva test, and five hormone levels are checked: estradiol (the stronger form of estrogen, and the one most linked to breast cancer), progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, and DHEA-S.
  2. If your levels are found to be low, you may need to take bioidentical progesterone and sometimes bioidentical estrogen to restore proper balance. It’s worth mentioning that when it comes to taking natural hormone supplements, the goal is to return hormone levels to “normal” – or what would be considered normal for a healthy person. In most cases, you only need relatively small amounts of bioidentical hormones. It is crucial to regularly re-evaluate your hormone levels while taking bioidentical hormones.
  3. It’s also important to eliminate from your life any hormone-altering chemicals with which you might be coming into contact. We are bombarded daily with toxic chemicals that were not in existence just a few decades ago. There are synthetic hormones in our water supply, in the foods we eat, and toxic pesticides in our air and water – many of which exert estrogen-like actions. See my articles Protect Yourself from Xenoestrogens & Estrogen Dominance and Unraveling the Mystery of Xenoestrogens and Estrogen Dominance for more information.
  4. Support hormone balance through nutrition and exercise. Our modern diets are full of too many of the foods that promote obesity and estrogen dominance, and our sedentary lifestyles make that worse. Simply by becoming more active and reducing your sugar intake, avoiding refined carbohydrates and foods high in trans-fatty acids, you can do a lot of good. Increase your intake of organic, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and other vegetables, fruits, and fiber (fiber is especially beneficial as it helps to whisk excess estrogen out of the body).

What About Wild Yam Products?

There are many products available that claim to serve as natural alternative sources of progesterone. These products are made from soybeans or an inedible wild yam from Mexico called Dioscorea villosa. The wild yam products are available as a topical or vaginal cream or in capsules and for years have been promoted as being a natural form of progesterone. They actually do not contain any progesterone, but a phytochemical known as diosgenin.

Does diosgenin convert into progesterone? Dr John Lee had this to say: “Some companies are trying to sell diosgenin, which they label “wild yam extract” as a medicine or supplement, claiming that the body will then convert it into hormones as needed. While we know this can be done in the laboratory, there is no evidence that this conversion takes place in the human body.”

Now, I’ve taken wild yam cream myself on many occasions to help with menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, etc with minimal results. Most other sources I consulted while researching for this article concluded that applying wild yam extract topically or taking it internally will not result in increased progesterone levels in the body because the body cannot convert diosgenin into progesterone. A 2001 clinical study [4] found that menopausal women taking wild yam extracts had about the same outcome as those on placebo. After three months of treatment, there were no changes in progesterone levels.

So What To Do If You’re Too Nervous to Use Bioidentical Hormones?

For those who are told to not take bioidentical hormones by their doctors and are too nervous to go against doctor’s orders, you can try to raise your progesterone levels naturally. Here are the nutrients and lifestyle alterations that may assist with that:

Eat lots of healthy fats and cholesterol-containing foods. Progesterone is produced from cholesterol, so eating organic foods that will help to gently raise cholesterol levels will help progesterone levels in turn. Eat organic eggs, organic butter, organically raised meats, organic chicken, sardines, and wild caught salmon.

Eat foods that help stimulate progesterone production. These foods don’t contain progesterone, but they may help boost the production of progesterone. Include crucifers like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale. Also include beans, nuts, pumpkin, spinach and whole grains, and include loads of fresh berries and fruits that contain a lot of vitamin C.

Reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is made out of the same precursor as progesterone, so when you have too much stress, you have elevated cortisol levels and reduced progesterone levels. Meditation and massage therapy can help with this. Also try to get more and better sleep – while this may not specifically increase your progesterone levels, it can help your body to heal, calm down your nervous system, reduce cortisol, and all of that is good for you. If you don’t sleep well, see my article Want to Sleep Better? https://marnieclark.com/want-to-sleep-better/

Use Castor Oil Packs. This may seem weird, but here’s why it works. To offset estrogen dominance, the body’s cleansing processes must be working well. Castor oil improves levels of glutathione, the body’s powerhouse detoxifier. Glutathione works to eliminate excess estrogens, toxins, and even xenoestrogens. A castor oil pack placed directly over the liver can exert a powerful effect that supports liver function and glutathione activity. Castor oil packs also reduce inflammation and relieve constipation, thus helping you to excrete excess estrogen. For more information on how to make a castor oil pack, just Google it, there are a number of good YouTube videos that will show you how. And always use organic castor oil, please.

References:

[1] Progesterone receptor modulates ERa action in breast cancer – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4650274/

[2] Progesterone vs. Synthetic Progestins and the Risk of Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27456847

[3] https://www.johnleemd.com/bioidentical-hormones.html

[4] Effects of wild yam extract on menopausal symptoms, lipids and sex hormones in healthy menopausal women – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11428178

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.

Looking Deeper to Find the Cause of Breast Cancer

Looking Deeper to Find the Cause of Breast Cancer

When I was studying naturopathic medicine in the late 90’s, one of the things I was most impressed about was the fact that we were taught, when faced with a patient and an illness, to get to the root of the problem, to discover why the patient had the illness. I recall one instructor telling us that if you don’t find what is causing a person’s malady – or dis-ease – treating the symptoms was often not going to heal  them. It was impressed upon us that in order to heal from a disease you have to find out what is causing it.

Fast forward a few years, and I heard those awful words, “I’m sorry but you do have breast cancer.” I knew that in order to heal, I was going to need to find the reason for my manifesting this disease. I feel that is where conventional medicine totally fails us with regard to breast cancer – the recommended treatments do not address the reason why we got breast cancer in the first place and in many cases exacerbate the problem.

Cancer is a complex disease and can be caused by a multitude of factors, which is why I coach my clients to endeavor to discover what it was in the first place that caused them to manifest this disease.

Many already know. A whopping 90% of my clients tell me that they were under enormous levels of stress in the lead-up to their breast cancer diagnosis, and it was the same for me. Stress is a huge factor, because high levels of cortisol (the hormone that is released when we are under stress) impact our health in many ways.

18 years ago, Stanford University released a study which found that women with advanced breast cancer who had unusually high cortisol levels were significantly more likely to die sooner than patients with normal levels of the hormone. The women also had lower levels of natural killer cells (cells of the immune system that scour the body for cancer cells), and this reduced immunity was also a factor in the higher mortality of the women in the study. [1]

So for at least 18 years our medical professionals have known about the stress factor yet, to my knowledge, very few oncologists ever suggest that their breast cancer patients examine their stress levels or try to do anything about it. It seems they are too busy to read such studies, but a simple how-to-meditate course together with joining a support group has been shown to effectively lower cortisol levels and provide women with some much-needed social support – and these women are living longer.

Stress is not the only factor in breast cancer. As I stated before, there are many possible causes and here is a list of the 18 more prevalent ones:

  1. Stress and chronically high levels of cortisol
  2. Shift work, which disrupts melatonin release (see my article “Optimize Melatonin and Reduce Breast Cancer Risk)
  3. Lack of exercise
  4. Poor diet with inadequate fruit/vegetable/fiber intake
  5. Insulin resistance
  6. Epstein Barr Virus
  7. Obesity
  8. Environmental pollution, both in the home and outside it
  9. Overabundance of xenoestrogens, disrupting hormones
  10. Genetic predisposition (only 5-10% of breast cancer is due to this)
  11. Radiation exposure
  12. Poor breast microbiome (if you haven’t heard of this before, see the studies listed below under references)
  13. Compromised immunity
  14. Hormone replacement therapy
  15. Poor gastrointestinal health
  16. Poor dental health, including root canals in teeth
  17. Poor emotional health – an overabundance of toxic emotions
  18. Chronic inflammation

My goal by writing this article is to empower you with information so that you are better able to make your body hostile terrain for cancer development and growth. I am not telling you to ignore what your doctor has recommended for you. I do suggest that, in addition to whatever your conventional medicine doctor has recommended for you, one of the things to which you give a high priority is to discover the reason why you have breast cancer in the first place. It’s a lot of territory to cover, no doubt about it, but I encourage you to work with an integrative oncologist, or an oncology naturopath, or a functional medicine doctor, or at the very least (not to trivialize what I do) a breast cancer coach. All of us can help you find your way back to good health.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of prioritizing stress relief. Sometimes it’s an improvement in nutrition, sometimes it’s a matter of dealing with a wonky gene (and that’s where functional medicine can help). It might be that you don’t methylate properly. It could be an environmental toxin. So focus on working with a trained professional, healing and getting past this. YOU CAN DO THIS!

References

[1] Stress Hormone May Contribute to Breast Cancer Deaths – https://news.stanford.edu/news/2000/june28/breast-628.html

Breast Cancer Linked to Bacterial Imbalances – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171006124004.htm

Breast tissue, oral and urinary microbiomes in breast cancer – http://www.oncotarget.com/index.php?journal=oncotarget&page=article&op=view&path[]=21490&path[]=68289

GET MY BEST TIPS on healing from breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the  far right-hand side of each page of this website. 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 CA 15-3 Cancer Marker Test And Its Accuracy

Image Source: rgbstock.com / Littleman

Image Source: rgbstock.com / Littleman

The CA 15-3 Cancer Marker Test And Its Accuracy

Women who have been through treatments for breast cancer are normally followed for five years to monitor their status and one of the tests frequently done by doctors is the CA 15-3 marker test. In this article I will share some information about the CA 15-3 test, discuss the accuracy of the test, and some new research.

What Is The CA 15-3 Cancer Marker Test?

CA 15-3 stands for cancer antigen 15-3 which is a protein produced by normal breast cells.  Some  people – not all – with cancerous breast tumors have an increased production of CA 15-3.  The protein does not cause or promote cancer, rather copies of it are cast off by tumor cells, the copies then enter the bloodstream and can be detected through a blood sample.

CA 15-3 Not That Reliable For Early Stage Breast Cancer

The problem with the CA 15-3 test is that it is not all that reliable, particularly for early breast cancer.  One source indicated that CA 15-3 is elevated in only about 10% of women with early localized breast cancer, while another source indicated the figure was 30%.  CA 15-3 levels can also be completely absent in early-stage breast cancer, making it quite difficult to rely upon this test for early stage cancers or those tumors that do not express the antigen.

A 1999 Italian study comparing the CA 15-3 test with another marker test, the CA 27-29, found that “CA27.29 discriminates primary breast cancer from healthy subjects better than CA15.3, especially in patients with limited disease.” 1

Other Conditions Can Cause Elevated CA 15-3 Levels

CA 15-3 levels can also be elevated in healthy people, as well as in people with other cancers such as lung, pancreas, colon, ovary, or prostate.  Elevated levels are also seen in benign breast disease, cirrhosis, hepatitis, tuberculosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis – and this is by no means an exhaustive list.

CA 15-3 More Useful In Metastatic Breast Cancer, Response To Treatment

For those with metastatic breast cancer, the CA 15-3 test does tend to be a bit more reliable an indicator, being elevated in 50-90% of those with breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, particularly when metastases to the bones or liver exist.  One French study 2 found that 42% of women with metastases present had normal CA 15-3 levels, however.

The CA 15-3 test tends to be most useful for deciding whether a certain treatment is assisting the patient or not, as a decrease in CA 15-3 levels during treatment such as chemotherapy tells the doctor that the tumor is responding to the treatment, while a stable or increasing marker level may indicate that the tumor has not responded as well (or at all) to the treatment.

While it can be worrisome to the patient to be monitored for CA 15-3 – especially if the marker keeps rising over a period of time and various other tests have not picked up cancer activity – it can be a sign for the patient to be more proactive with their anti-cancer regimen rather than waiting for the development of physical symptoms.  Knowing levels are rising early on can have a huge impact on therapies chosen and survival.

New Study Indicates A Combo Of Marker Tests More Specific

A March 2015 study 3 indicated that a combination of 3 marker tests was more useful.  204 disease-free breast cancer patients who had undergone mastectomy were followed and monitored for an average of 3.7 years with a combination of three marker tests.  Researchers employed the CA 15-3, one called TPA (for tissue polypeptide antigen, more on that below), and one called CEA (for carcinoembryonic antigen, more on that below).  This study indicated that “the sensitivity of the CEA-TPA-CA15.3 tumor marker panel was 93%, the specificity was 97.6% and the rate of false ‘warning signals’ per year of follow-up was 9 per 100 patients.”

In addition to the above study, another smaller but interesting Iraqi study on women with breast cancer indicated that tissue polypeptide antigen (TPA) levels were a good indicator of disease progression, as well as tumor response. 4

The carcinoembryonic antigen test (CEA) was studied in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer treated with chemotherapy.  The researchers reported that low levels of CEA were indicative of progression-free survival. 5

Obviously, new marker tests are being discovered and researched.  A study yet to be published in the Journal of Proteomics 6 reported that there was a necessity for the identification of new markers for breast cancer that could lead to early detection and also provide evidence of effective treatment.  The researchers examined 1,020 polypeptides and discovered 78 that were overexpressed in all cancer lines. This kind of forward-thinking research may help us to discover new and better ways of identifying earlier the existence of breast cancer as well as response to treatments.

In the meantime, and to sum up, please be aware that a CA 15-3 tumor marker test on its own does not provide enough information to screen for the presence of breast cancer.  Normal levels do not ensure the absence of localized or metastatic breast cancer, further tests should be employed.

2017 Update: See also my article The Telomerase Test for Monitoring Breast Cancer.

References:

http://breastcancer.about.com/od/tumormarkers/f/ca_15-3.htm

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2087491-overview#aw2aab6b3

1.  Comparison of the Diagnostic Accuracy of CA27.29 and CA15.3 in Primary Breast Cancer – http://www.clinchem.org/content/45/5/630.short

2.  Value of CA 15-3 determination in the initial management of breast cancer patients – http://annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/5/962.2.full

3.  An individual reference limit for ‘early’ diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer during postoperative follow-up – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25808435

4. Tissue polypeptide antigen & interleukin-6: Are their serum levels a predictor for response to chemotherapy in breast cancer? – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25225536

5.  The Association of Serum Carcinoembryonic Antigen, Carbohydrate Antigen 19-9, Thymidine Kinase, and Tissue Polypeptide Specific Antigen with Outcomes of Patients with Metastatic Colorectal Cancer Treated with Bevacizumab: a Retrospective Study – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25875421

6.  Determination of the protein expression profiles of breast cancer cell lines by quantitative proteomics using iTRAQ labelling and tandem mass spectrometry – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25918110

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.  

How To Stop A Panic Attack

How To Stop A Panic Attack

I have been working with a number of people newly diagnosed with breast cancer, several of whom are suffering from panic attacks, so I thought it might be useful to post some information on how to stop a panic attack.

Because they can be so frightening, so debilitating and disruptive to your life, a panic attack is definitely not to be ignored.

Teal Swan To The Rescue

I had in mind to create a video with specific breathing exercises and other information, but I happened upon Teal Swan’s YouTube video “How To Stop A Panic Attack” and she has done such a good job at describing not only what causes an anxiety attack, tips on how to deal with them when they arise, as well as other holistic changes you can incorporate to help yourself heal from them, that I decided “why reinvent the wheel” and decided simply to share her video here.

Teal Swan, if you are not familiar with her, is an amazing young woman.  She calls herself The Spiritual Catalyst and offers advice on many different subjects.  She is incredibly wise for someone so young.  You can read more about her life’s journey here.

So without further ado, if you are experiencing a lot of anxiety or panic over your breast cancer diagnosis, please take nineteen minutes to view this video, I believe it really will help you (or at the very least, steer you in the right direction).

If you do continue to suffer with panic and anxiety, let’s connect. Sometimes all you need is a really good healing plan to subdue those fears and anxieties.  I would be honored to help you with that.  Please go to my page describing my breast cancer coaching services.

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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