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.
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.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. There are four main classifications of breast cancer.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.\
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.
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.
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: