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Breast Cancer – The Herbal Option
by Chris K H Teo, Irene E.A.Teo & Ch’ng Beng Im
This is a ten-chapter-298-page book Eight breast cancer survivors shared their stories. They shared how they felt from their hearts. They spoke their mind about their healing journeys. There are many things that we can learn from their experiences, that is, if we are open-minded and receptive enough to learn. These eight survivors have responded to their cancer in different ways, demonstrating once again that patients are human beings, not machines made out of the same mould.
Why do we write this book?
Breast cancer is the most common malignancy we have encountered at CA Care over the past ten years. Many patients come to us asking: What is your experience with breast cancer? What evidence do you have to show us? By reading this book, we hope you will not only find the answers you seek but also learn something from the experiences of others.
Over the past many years, many (thousands) cancer patients have come to seek our help and advice. They wanted to know what else they could do, generally after modern medicine had failed them. Most of these patients were totally ignorant of what they were up against. Many thought that they could easily find a cure for their cancer. They were seeking that non-existent magic bullet. Alas! Cure and healing come from within, not from the outside. Patients have to learn how to heal themselves.
In cancer, it is worth noting that ignorance kills.
There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. It never goes away.
You just move from treatment to treatment. ~ Amy Cohen Soscia
Current Breast Cancer Treatment
Patients undergo surgery after being diagnosed with breast cancer. After the surgery, they are asked to undergo adjuvant chemotherapy, radiotherapy and/or receive hormonal treatment. What they get greatly depends on the seriousness of their cancer (as determined by the tumour size and grade, infection of the lymph nodes and presence of hormone receptors and HER2, etc.). But sometimes, I have observed it also depends on the doctors who treat them. Some doctors ask patients to receive more treatments than necessary while others are more moderate or conservative in their recommendations.
Do all breast cancer patients need chemotherapy? It appears to be a big yes, in the past and even now. In my earlier book (Understanding, preventing and overcoming breast cancer, 2001), I quoted Cathy Hitchcock: It is my belief that one day society will look back on the chemotherapy era the way we now look back to the blood letting … period of medical history – as primitive and barbaric.
Marilynn Marchione (Associated Press, 10 December 2005: Fewer breast cancer patients to get chemo) described chemotherapy as a method to poison them … blasting women with toxic chemicals … the bigger the cancer or the more it had spread, the more vile liquids doctors pumped into their veins to try to kill it.
Chemotherapy appears barbaric if it is given indiscriminately ignoring the fact that patients are made to go through hell because of it.
Is The Current Practice in Keeping With Research?
What if research shows that using such toxic drugs are not, or may not be necessary after all?
- Gina Kolata (The New York Times, 12 May 2006: Shift in treating breast cancer is under debate) wrote: After years of adding more and ... more drugs, shorter intervals between chemotherapy sessions, higher doses, longer periods of harsh therapy – (doctors) are now wondering whether many women could skip chemotherapy altogether.
- Dr. Francisco Esteva of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre, Texas, USA., said: He is left asking many women with early-stage breast cancer to decide what may seem like the undecidable: whether they want to take something potentially toxic when you have a 90 percent chance of being cured without it.
- Dr. Eric Winer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Centre in Boston, USA, said: Some of us feel we have enough information to start backing off on chemotherapy in selected patients.
- In another article (The New York Times, 12 April 2006: Studies challenge traditional breast cancer treatments) Gina Kolata wrote: One study suggests that doctors may eventually be able to identify women who do not need chemotherapy.
Take a look at the following:
- Three-quarters of postmenopausal women have tumours which are estrogen-positive (ER+). They can be treated with hormonal therapy. The benefit of chemotherapy in this group of patients is minimal.
- Women before menopause often have tumours that are ER-negative. Hormonal therapy does not help. This group of women benefits most from chemotherapy.
- About 15% to 20% of women have HER2-positive receptors. For breast cancer that are HER2-postive, the chemo-drug Taxol is shown to be effective, but Taxol is not effective in HER2-negative women. This means Taxol could just be a useless, toxic drug in 80% to 85% of women.
- Some women have triple-negative tumours. For this group of women, chemotherapy can be quite effective but chemotherapy does not necessarily work all the time for them. In some women chemotherapy does not work at all.
- Some women had tumours with tau protein. The presence of this protein indicates that the tumour is sensitive to Taxol.
From the above, it is clear that treating all women with a standard recipe of toxic drugs as if they have one similar kind of disease is faulty – a classic example of what it means by practice without research is blind.
Marilynn Marchione (Associated Press, 10 December 2005: Fewer breast cancer patients to get chemo) wrote: Chemo is a sledgehammer ... women have reason to dread it. It helps about 15 percent of those who get it … roughly 25 percent get worse despite chemo. A whopping 60 percent would have been fine with hormone alone.
Dr. William Gradishar of Northwestern University in Chicago, said: For the vast majority of patients, we probably over-treat.
Dr. Robert Carlson, of Stanford University said: We’re trying to determine if the benefit is so small that we should not be recommending chemotherapy.
Anne Moore of Cornell Medical Centre, New York (editorial, New Eng. J. Med. 2007, 357:15) wrote: The days of “one size fits all” therapy for patients with breast cancer is coming to an end.
Oncologists have a responsibility to their patients to be aware of this.
How effective is chemotherapy for breast cancer?
Cancer doctors in Sydney, Australia – Graeme Morgan, Robyn Ward and Michael Baton (Clinical Oncology. 2004. 549-560) – pointed out the following:
- In Australia, of the 10,661 people who had breast cancer only 164 of them survived five years due to chemotherapy. This works out to 1.5% contribution of chemotherapy to survival.
- The overall contribution of curative and adjuvant chemotherapy to 5-year survival in adults was estimated to be 2.3% in Australia and 2.1% in the USA.
Writing in the editorial of Australian Prescriber (2006. 29:2-3), Eva Segelov wrote:
- Chemotherapy has been oversold. Chemotherapy has improved survival by less than 3% in adults with cancer.
In the Netherlands, M. Veroort and Colleagues (British J. Cancer 2004:91:242-247) wrote:
- Breast cancer mortality reduction caused by present-day practice of adjuvant tamoxifen and chemotherapy is 7%. Tamoxifen contributes most to the mortality reduction.
Ponder on this statement. If tamoxifen and chemotherapy only contribute 7% to survival and most of that is due to tamoxifen – what is left of chemotherapy? The contribution of chemotherapy to survival could perhaps be no more than 3%?
How effective is the FAC or FEC regimen?
The chemotherapy regimes commonly used for breast cancer are anthracycline-based. Perhaps breast cancer patients are familiar with these names: AC (Andriamycin + cyclophosphamide), CAF (cyclophosphamide + Adriamycin + 5-FU) and CEF (cyclophosphamide + epirubicin + 5-FU).
Patients receiving such a regimen are told this is a scientifically proven state-of-the-art treatment. The effectiveness of such a treatment has undergone peer review and is published in peer-reviewed journals. The treatment can prevent further spread of the cancer and patients can be cured.
Most patients accept their doctors’ words in good faith. In countries where medical treatments are not paid by the government, patients have to find their own money to pay for such a treatment. Some patients have to sell their house, land or jewellery, etc., to finance this treatment.
It is very shocking to learn that at a closed meeting of a selected group of people during the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting held in Chicago (2007), Dr. Dennis Slamon, Chief of Oncology at the University of California at Los Angeles, revealed that his research had indicated that the widely used anthracycline chemo-drugs, such as Andriamycin, provided no benefit whatever to about 92% of breast cancer patients. Most women did not benefit from this chemotherapy. To find no benefit is one thing but having to pay for and receiving a drug that causes severe toxicities is another thing. These anthracyclines are notoriously dangerous because they are known to cause damage to the heart or may even cause secondary cancer like leukaemia.
The National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC), a grass roots advocacy group in the US released this statement (May 2007) in its website: NBCC urges the oncology community to reassess the use of anthracycline-based chemotherapy ... The Coalition urged that it may very well be the time to do away with anthracycline drugs. Such drugs only benefit a very small percentage of women. They benefit only 8% of patients whose breast cancer co-amplify the HER2 and TopoII genes. This point is worth repeating: only patients tested positive for HER2 and TopoII benefit from anthracycline-based chemotherapy.
Is the medical community willing to change its ways of treating breast cancer in the light of this research evidence? The NBCC said:
· while the medical oncology community is quick to embrace additional treatments, it is extremely cautious toward change in the other direction even when the evidence warrants it. Meanwhile, women with breast cancer are subject to complex regimens of toxic and expensive treatments that they simply may not need.
At the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, December 2007, Dr. Slamon was quoted to have said the continued use of anthracyclines on a one-size-fits-all approach is just crazy and it’s medically dangerous (www.cancerdecisions.com/123007_page.html).
WHAT THE SURVIVORS SAY
Sue was thirty-nine years old when she discovered two lumps in her right breast on 10 January 2003. A biopsy confirmed malignant tumours. She immediately came to CA Care to seek help.
Did you take the herbs because you were desperate?
No. It was just that when I saw the herbs, I knew they were for me. It was so natural. The only peculiar thing was that I’ve never ever taken any Chinese medicine in my whole life! Except for the dong quai (Angelica sinensis) we use in soups.
You had “ideas” that the herbal concoctions are like longkang (ditch) water?
But when I saw mine, they were alright.
When you boiled the herbs – the “smell” and “bad” taste – how did you react to them?
I just said: Thank God for them. I never knew what herbs could do for me. I never knew that herbs are God’s medicine for us. Not until I read your books and books by others.
And you took them just like that? Did you ask what each type was for and all that?
No. No. I could just drank the concoction. I immediately bought the book you wrote on Breast Cancer. That became my bible, and another one was on Wu Ming Qi Gong. These are the two books that helped me a lot. Yeong also gave me some books. One was about operating on the lymph nodes.
Christmas 2007 – we received a card with this message: Thank you for everything. I will always cherish and treasure the gift you gave me when I was down, almost three years ago. “Small C” has taught me to slow down and to count my blessings in life. Thank you. With love.
This card was from Lisa, a forty-year old lady who came to see us in May 2005. Lisa’s problem started with a lump in her right breast in March 2005. A biopsy indicated breast cancer. She was asked to undergo a lumpectomy or mastectomy but was given two months to make her decision. This was because she wanted to find alternative options. The alternative therapies that she followed did not stop the tumour from growing. Instead it grew bigger and had spread too. Frustrated Lisa decided to go for a lumpectomy. After the surgery she was asked to go for chemotherapy, which she declined. Subsequently she was led to CA Care and was given information about this holistic therapy. Lisa had a history of migraine and stomach discomforts before her menses. Her gall bladder was removed in 1999. The Christmas card not only brought good wishes to us but also told us Lisa is still doing fine at the time of this writing.
Now you seem to be well. What do you think are the reasons that make you well today?
I had faced death. When I got cancer, I thought that I was going to die. Having overcome those difficulties, I felt that there was nothing that I cannot overcome now. Life has become easier for me now.
(Rephrased question) What is it that has made you well today?
Husband: We have taken the right herbs. I believe that is what helped in her recovery.
Meaning to say taking the herbs has been one of the big factors?
Apart from the herbs, what else?
Mainly, it is the herbs. The herbs gave me a lot of confidence. The herbs contributed about 90% to my well-being. Another 10% was prayers. I knew that I would be taken care of. Even if I had lumps elsewhere, I kept telling myself that I would be able to overcome that. Like recently, I kept reminding myself that it was high time I cleaned myself up. I have been overdoing things and not taking care of my diet properly. My husband has been warning me also: Hey be careful! Watch your diet. I tend to overdo things.
Diet was very important too. Besides that I believed that my husband wanted me to be well. Honestly, he gave me a lot of support although he was very temperamental sometimes (laughing gleefully). Since he believed that he was able to take care of me, I left everything to him. He has done everything for me. If he wants to poison me one day, he can easily do so! (Laughing gleefully).
This factor on spousal help. Would you say that without him, you would collapse?
Yes. Oh, yes, definitely, definitely.
Without religion, you may not have much confidence?
Without the herbs?
I wouldn’t know what to do.
Husband: I agree full heartedly.
Without the diet?
I would feel guilty. I would know something is wrong and I had to be careful with my diet. If I were to get cancer again somewhere else, it’ll be probably because of my diet.
The reality is that cancer may come back. You are well today, but if ever it were to come back, would you be afraid?
No. I would not be afraid. Knowing that it may come back, I am prepared for that. If ever it were to come back, the first thing I would do would be to clean up my diet. I would go back to the first diet that I had – that was strict fasting and colon cleansing. That is the number one priority and number two, your herbs. I am not saying that I will be well forever.
So, you won’t be as lost anymore – as you once were?
So, you feel more empowered?
Yes, I will guard my diet. I realise I am beginning to take a lot of sugar. That is why I am having migraines quite often. My operation wound is not healing well. Earlier, I had not had migraines at all for the past six to seven months because I was on a very strict diet.