What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast tissue divide and grow without control. The cell cycle is the natural mechanism that regulates the growth and death of cells. When the normal cell regulators malfunction and cells do not die at the proper rate, there is a failure of cell death (apoptosis) therefore cell growth goes unchecked. As a result, cancer begins to develop as cells divide without control, accumulating into a mass of extra tissue called a tumor. A tumor can be either non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). As a tumor grows, it elicits new blood vessel growth from the surrounding normal healthy tissues and diverts blood supply and nutrients away from this tissue to feed itself. This process is termed “angiogenesis”- the development (genesis) of new blood vessels (angio). Unregulated tumor angiogenesis facilitates the growth of cancer throughout the body.
Cancer cells have the ability to leave the original tumor site, travel to distant locations, and recolonize. This process is called metastasis and it occurs in organs such as the liver, lungs, and bones. Both the bloodstream and lymphatic system (the network connecting lymph nodes throughout the body) serve as ideal vehicles for the traveling cancer. Although, these traveling cancer cells do not always survive beyond the tumor, if they do survive, the cancer cells will again begin to divide abnormally and will create tumors in each new location. A person with untreated or treatment-resistant cancer may eventually die of the disease if vital organs such as the liver or lungs are invaded, overtaken, and destroyed.
Cancerous tumors in the breast usually grow slowly. It is thought that by the time a tumor is large enough to be felt as a lump, it may have been growing for as long as 10 years. This has lead to the belief that undetectable spread of tumor cells (micrometastasis) may have already occurred by the time of the diagnosis. Therefore, preventive measures such as a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle, nutritional supplementation, and exercise are of primary importance against the development of cancer. Early diagnosis is the best way to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer. This can be accomplished by monthly self-breast exams, annual clinical breast exams and screening mammography. If breast cancer is detected, a multimodality approach incorporating nutritional supplementation, dietary modification, detoxification, and one or more of the following may be considered: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, or vaccine therapy.