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Published On: Sun, Sep 30th, 2012

Breast Cancer & Complementary Medicine


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By Gene Bruno, MS, MHS (Dean of Academics, Huntington College of Health Sciences)

The National Cancer Institute estimates that 226,870 women will be diagnosed with and 39,510 women will die of breast cancer in 2012. NCI also report that 12.38% of women born today (1 in 8 women) will be diagnosed with breast cancer some time during their lifetime.Yet despite these seemingly grim statistics, there are many treatment options which have brought new hope in the fight against this disease. In fact, according to Breastcancer.org these treatments include:

 •Surgery (lumpectomy, mastectomy, and lymph node dissection)

Chemotherapy

Radiation therapy

Hormonal therapy

Targeted therapies (Herceptin, Tykerb, Avastin, Perjeta, Afinitor)

Complementary medicine

Drugs for treatment and risk reduction

This article will focus of the use of complementary medicine in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. More specifically, it will focus on coenzyme Q10, soy isoflavones, indole-3-carbinol and DIM, laughter, folic acid and dietary fiber as complementary medicine therapies. Diet in general also plays an important role, and there are other viable complementary therapies as well. However, due to space limitations, this article will not address diet (with the exception of fiber) and those other therapies.

 Coenzyme Q10

Biochemical, biomedical and clinical research on coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and its relationship to treating cancer has evolved internationally over the last 35 years.  Some interesting research published in a scientific journal in 1995 discussed three specific breast cancer patients who underwent a conventional protocol of therapy which included 390 mg of CoQ10.  In one 44-year-old patient, the numerous liver metastases “disappeared,” and no signs of metastases were found elsewhere.  Another 49-year-old patient revealed no signs of tumor in the pleural cavity after six months, and her condition was excellent.  A 75-year-old patient with carcinoma in one breast showed no cancer in the tumor bed or metastases after lumpectomy and 390 mg of CoQ10 daily.

Of course it’s great to quote a few isolated cases where breast cancer patients responded well to CoQ10 therapy, but have there been positive results when CoQ10 was given to larger groups of patients?  As a matter of fact, yes.  Thirty-two typical patients with breast cancer, aged 32-81 years and classified ‘high risk’ because of tumor spread to lymph nodes, were studied for 18 months following the administration of a special dietary supplement program.  The supplement program included a combination of antioxidants including vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, essential fatty acids, and 90 mg of CoQ10 daily.  The results of the study were: 1) none of the patients died during the study period (the expected number was four); 2) none of the patients showed signs of further distant metastases; 3) quality of life was improved (no weight loss, reduced use of pain killers); 4) six patients showed apparent partial remission.

Interestingly, in a subsequent follow-up study, one of the aforementioned six patients who showed partial remission had her dose increased to 390 mg daily.  In one month, the tumor was no longer palpable, and in another month, mammography confirmed the absence of tumor.  Another patient who had non-radical surgery still had residual tumor in the tumor bed.  She was treated with 300 mg of CoQ10, and in 3 months was in excellent clinical condition and there was not residual tumor tissue.

 Soy and its isoflavones

One of the risk factors in the development of breast cancer has do with the conversion of the estrogen hormone estradiol into the estrogen compounds, 2-hydroxyestrone and 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone. Specifically, research suggests that conversion into 2-hydroxyestrone is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, while conversion into 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone is associated with an increased risk. That’s where the soy isoflavones come into the picture.

The isoflavones in soybeans have been shown to have anti-cancer effects.  One particular isoflavone called genistein (and possibly another called daidzein), has been proposed to contribute an important part of the anti-cancer effect of soy isoflavones.   As a matter of fact, genistein in soy is considered by some researchers to be responsible for the lower rate of breast cancer observed in Asian women consuming soy. The reason for this anti-cancer effect may be that soy isoflavones increase the conversion of estradiol to 2-hydroxyestrone, but not 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone.

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