Cancer is the general term for the disease of abnormal cell growth. Normally, our body is very good at telling our cells how to behave: how to grow, and when to die. Cancer cells stop listening to our body, and in fact become self-regulated. Cancer cells can send themselves signals to grow, and ignores other signals telling it to die. Cells become cancerous and take on a life of their own after numerous insults to their DNA, including inflammation, smoking, alcohol, obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, environmental pollutants, and viruses.
What are the symptoms of cancer?
There are specific and general signs and symptoms of cancer. For example, a specific sign of breast cancer is a lump in the breast. A specific sign of skin cancer is change in the appearance of a mole. But often, we do not get so lucky and have such a specific sign. There are many general signs and symptoms of cancer that everyone should be aware of and talk to their doctor should they arise.
* Note, these general signs can be due to other, non-cancer illness as well.
- Fever – when we have a fever, we often think we are sick. But in the absence of an infection, this could be a sign of cancer, such as leukaemia.
- Fatigue and dizziness – often cancers can cause low hemoglobin, which is the molecule in our red blood cells that carries oxygen. Low hemoglobin can cause fatigue and dizziness.
- Enlarged lymph nodes – many cancers spread via the lymphatic system, and this if often the first sign of metastasis.
- Lingering cough – while this could be a sign of lung cancer, it could also be due to metastasis from a cancer of another origin.
- Pain – new onset of pain anywhere in the body should always be checked out, as this could be due to the pressure of an underlying tumour on nerve tissue.
- Unintentional weight loss – this could be due to uncontrolled inflammation in the body, and is a sign to take seriously.
Generally, always be on the lookout for any kind of new symptoms in your body. This could include vaginal bleeding (cervical and endometrial cancer), changes in bowel movements (colon cancer), hoarseness of the voice (lung cancer), pain in swallowing (esophageal cancer), feeling bloated (ovarian cancer), and headaches (brain cancer).
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. There are four main classifications of breast cancer.
- Ductal carcinoma arises from the cells of the milk ducts of the breast.
- Lobular carcinoma arises from the cells of the glands that produce milk.
- Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of breast cancer, and much more aggressive. In this type, the lymphatic tissue becomes infiltrated with cancer cells, and the breast takes on a red and swollen appearance.
- Paget’s disease is characterized by cancer cells that have migrated to the surface of the breast and resembles eczema.
Breast cancer is further classified by the terms in situ and invasive. For example, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) means that the cancer has arisen from the ductal cells, and is still confined to the basement membrane of the tissue. Invasive ductal carcinoma means that the cancer has arisen from the ductal cells, but has now spread beyond the basement membrane.
What Are The Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
Always talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following signs: a lump in the breast, a dimple in the breast, changes in the appearance of the skin, nipple discharge, eczema around the nipple, or if your breast appears red, swollen and feels heavy. These symptoms are in addition to the general signs and symptoms of cancer discussed previously.
What Happens After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis?
After you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you will hear some more terms. “Estrogen positive” and “progesterone positive” means that your cancer type is hormone sensitive and that these hormones stimulate the growth of your cancer. “Her-2-neu (her-two-new) positive” means that your cancer has another cell receptor that when stimulated, contributes to the growth of the cancer.
The choice of medical treatment will depend on the size of the tumour, whether it lies in situ or has invaded surrounding tissue, whether it has spread to lymph nodes, and whether the tissue is hormone sensitive. The options are usually a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Below are some terms you may hear:
- Lumpectomy – this is the surgical removal of the tumour, as well as a margin of healthy tissue surrounding it.
- Partial mastectomy – this is similar to a lumpectomy, but more healthy tissue is removed than in a lumpectomy.
- Mastectomy – this is the surgical removal of the entire breast, including the nipple. Lymph nodes are not typically removed.
- Modified radical mastectomy – this is the removal of the entire breast, including the nipple, as well as lymph nodes. In the past, the chest wall muscles were also removed, but this is not as common anymore unless the cancer has spread to the muscles.
Complementary Naturopathic Care of Breast Cancer
No matter what stage of your cancer treatment here in Calgary, naturopathic medicine can help. The primary goals of supportive complementary care in breast cancer at our downtown Calgary clinic are to reduce circulating hormone levels, improve nutrition status, address insulin resistance, optimize the immune system, and maintain a healthy weight. Here are a few examples:
- Flax – there have been many studies conducted regarding the benefits of flax for breast cancer. Women with a diet high in flax show increased levels of estrogen excretion in the urine, showing that excess estrogen is being eliminated. Further, flax is an excellent source of fibre, and improves bowel movements, which also helps to get rid of excess estrogen from the body.
- Low sugar diet – a low sugar diet refers to a diet low in refined sugars: white bread and pasta, cookies, cakes, pastry, table sugar added to coffee and tea, sodas and syrups. A diet high in refined sugar increases the chances of diabetes, as well as many other health concerns. In cancer, if our blood sugar is high, and therefore our blood insulin is high, cancer cells can use this as energy to fuel their growth. A diet high in sugar also decreases our immune function.
- Exercise – just do it. Now is the time to stop making excuses. Studies have shown that exercising 30 minutes per day, 6 times per week, can prolong survival in women living with breast cancer. It also helps to maintain a healthy body weight. Fat tissue contains an enzyme that converts some types of hormones to estrogen, so lowering the fat in our bodies is critical.
Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in Canadian men. The prostate is a small gland below the bladder and is responsible for making seminal fluid, a component of semen. The urethra goes through the prostate, which carries urine and semen out of the penis. It is very common for men to have an enlarged prostate as they get older, a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Sometimes, however, as the cells grow and divide, cancerous changes occur.
What Are The Symptoms of Prostate Cancer?
Talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following signs or symptoms: increase in the frequency of urination, an intense need to urinate or feeling a sense of incomplete urination, inability to urinate, an interruption in the stream of the urine, burning or pain during urination, blood in the urine or semen, or painful ejaculation. These are in addition to the general signs and symptoms of cancer discussed above.
If you have any of these signs or symptoms, your doctor may perform a digital rectal exam (DRE), where a finger is inserted into the rectum to palpate the prostate. If it feels abnormal, an ultrasound and biopsy may be performed, as well as a blood test to measure prostate-specific antigen (PSA).
What Happens After a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis?
After a diagnosis, several things may happen. You may have a CT scan or MRI to assess whether the cancer has spread elsewhere. Your Gleason score will also be calculated, which is a measurement of how aggressive your cancer is. Based on these results, as well as your family history and PSA value, your doctor will discuss with you some medical treatment options. Among these are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, brachytherapy, androgen deprivation therapy, and active surveillance. A further explanation is below:
- Brachytherapy – brachytherapy on its own is used for early, stage localized prostate cancer. It involves small radioactive “seeds” implanted into the prostate, where the cancer cells receive radiation from within. It is also used with external radiation therapy.
- Androgen deprivation therapy – this is a hormonal therapy that decreases male hormones as to not stimulate the prostate cancer cells. This has a number of unsettling side effects, such as hot flashes and erectile dysfunction.
- Active surveillance – one study suggested that men refrain from treating their prostate cancer if they are early-stage (T1-T2), over age 70, have a Gleason score of less than 6, and a PSA less than 10 ng/ml.
Complementary Naturopathic Care of Prostate Cancer
Due to the side effects of surgery and radiation, it is extremely important to support the body with optimal nutrition and supplements that decrease the side effects of these conventional therapies for prostate cancer. The overall goals of naturopathic complementary care for clients with prostate cancer here at our downtown Calgary clinic are to maintain a healthy body weight, reduce inflammation, reduce PSA, reduce PSA doubling time, and attain optimal nutrition. Here are a few examples:
- Digestive disturbance – radiation can often cause digestive upset in men. Supporting the body with gut healing herbs, probiotics, fish oil and other supplements can help with this.
- Reduce PSA – studies agree that the lower the PSA value is, the better prognosis at it could mean that the cancer cells are growing at a slower rate. Several foods can slow the rise in PSA, such as pomegranate juice and tomato paste.
- Improve sexual dysfunction – desire, arousal, and achievement of orgasm are common concerns among men being treated for prostate cancer. Acupuncture and botanical medicine can greatly help in this area.
The colon, or large intestine, connects the small intestine to the anus. It is responsible for the absorption of water and other nutrients, and the removal of waste. Some well agreed upon risk factors of colon cancer include age, family history of colon cancer, personal medical history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, smoking, alcohol, obesity, poor nutrition (high fat, low fibre) and lack of exercise.
What Are The Symptoms of Colon Cancer?
In addition to the general signs and symptoms of cancer, pay attention to any of the following, and talk to your doctor: any changes in bowel habits (increased diarrhea or constipation), presence of blood or mucus, narrowing of stools, always feeling the need to have a bowel movement, abdominal pain or fullness, feeling a lump in the abdomen, and any changes in digestion, such as nausea or loss of appetite.
What Happens After a Colon Cancer Diagnosis?
Like other cancers mentioned above, what your oncology team decides to do is based on the size and location of the tumour. Surgery is the primary treatment of choice, as the goal is to remove the entire tumour. The surgery may also include the removal of lymph nodes, a portion of the colon, and any cancerous tissue that has spread to nearby organs. Chemotherapy is often prescribed as well.
complementary Naturopathic Care of Colon Cancer
As part of the digestive system, the colon receives a large amount of blood to help with digestion, and it is in direct contact with potentially harmful substances on a daily basis. The goals of naturopathic complementary care of colon cancer at our downtown Calgary clinic include optimizing nutrition, improving the immune system, treating addictive behaviour, achieving a healthy body mass index (BMI), and healing the gut. Some examples are as follows:
- Addictions – addictions to alcohol, smoking and food greatly increase the chances of developing colon cancer, and greatly affects its progression as well. Cutting these things out can be hard, but with supplementation, such as B vitamins for alcoholism, herbs, such as lobelia for smoking, and acupuncture, quitting can be easier.
- Green tea – green tea is a powerful antioxidant, and there are many studies attesting to its preventative actions. Drinking it allows its anti-cancer actions to come into direct contact with the intestinal lining.
- Probiotics – probiotics are directly involved in regulating the immune system, and so having these beneficial bacteria modulating the local immune system in the gut can be a wonderful supportive care.
Lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. The lungs are two air-filled sacs in our chest that are responsible for the inhalation and distribution of oxygen to our tissues, and the exhalation of toxic gasses. The majority of lung cancers are called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), while the other major subtype is called small cell lung cancer (SCLC).
Commonly agreed upon risk factors of lung cancer are smoking cigarettes, being exposed to second-hand smoke, exposure to asbestos and radon gas, and exposure to toxic substances via pollution or due to workplace exposure.\
What Are The Symptoms of Lung Cancer?
The following are symptoms of lung cancer, in addition to the general symptoms of cancer: a persistent or worsening cough, blood in the sputum, chest pain, shortness of breath or wheezing, chronic infections of the lungs (bronchitis), shoulder pain, or hoarseness of the voice.
What Happens After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis?
Surgery is used almost always with a diagnosis of lung cancer. Either the entire lobe of the lung will be removed, or if it small enough, just the tumour as well as a small margin of healthy tissue may be removed. Radiation and chemotherapy are also commonly used.
complementary Naturopathic Care of Lung Cancer
Unfortunately, lung cancer typically tends to have a poor prognosis, and therefore aggressive chemotherapy and radiation is usually performed. Naturopathic complementary care work best alongside conventional therapies. The goals of naturopathic care include improving the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation, reducing their side effects, protecting the immune system, and quitting smoking. Here are a few examples:
- Bromelain – a common side effect of radiation to the lungs is scarring, called fibrosis, which can lead to difficulty in breathing later on. Bromelain can prevent the formation of scar tissue.
- Melatonin – this hormone is an amazing antioxidant and immune stimulant. Many studies have also shown that when taking melatonin alongside radiation and chemotherapy, it increases their cancer killing ability while protecting normal cells from injury.
- Astragalus – when used along alongside chemotherapy can protect the white blood cells from being depleted, and has been shown to prolong survival time in patients.