top of page

Early Detection Is Key

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Breast Cancer: Early Detection

Self Breast Exam
Self Breast Exam

Breast cancer October is breast cancer awareness month, but this disease affects the lives of women across the globe every day of the year. This is a complex and multifaceted disease affecting millions of women worldwide. Breast cancer caused 685,000 deaths globally in 2020. Roughly half of these women had no specific risk factors other than sex and age. Conventional therapies like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation have proven effective, but there is growing research in the science of alternative therapies for detection and treatment that complement these approaches. Let’s take an updated look at the ever-emerging world of breast cancer.

Early detection There is no question that finding and treating cancer early is a far better scenario than finding it late. I have been known to say, ‘treat your body like it already has cancer – because it does.’ I don’t say that to be hyperbolic, I say that because it’s true. We all have cancer cells circulating in our body. The reason we don't all have detectable tumors is by the grace of our immune system whose job it is to find and kill these oncologic cells every day. When the immune system and detoxification pathways are dysregulated or overwhelmed, those cancer cells have the opportunity to take over. Tools for diagnosis Mammography Mammography has long been the mainstay for breast cancer screening. Since its introduction in the late 1970s, mammography has been strongly recommended by physicians, cancer organizations, and our public health officials. Once reserved for women with significant risk factors, today mammography is recommended annually or biennially for most women aged 40-75. Despite the extensive use of routine mammograms, deaths from breast cancer continue to rise. I am not advocating against mammograms, but they are far from perfect. It takes on average 8 years for a breast cancer tumor to become large enough to be detected on a routine mammogram. The sensitivity of this screening modality is dramatically diminished in women with dense or fibrocystic breasts. Mammography involves compressing the breast with 42 pounds of pressure between two plates. We all know how insanely painful that is, but it only takes about 22 pounds of pressure to rupture the encapsulation of a cancerous tumor.

One of the largest studies published to date on the efficacy of screening mammography was the Canadian National Breast Screening Trial. This randomized control study followed close to 90,000 women aged 40 to 59 for up to 25 years. In comparing women who did to those who did not have annual screening, they found absolutely no difference in breast cancer mortality. Given what we’ve been consistently told, that’s a hard finding to swallow – there wasn’t even a single percentage point of survival benefit demonstrated for those women who participated in yearly mammograms compared to those who did not.

There are arguments against universal screening with mammography due to false positives, false negatives, and psychological stress, but my biggest criticism outside of high false negatives is the obvious: mammograms are x-rays of the breasts. X-rays are radiation. Radiation causes cancer. I know you all know this, but in plain English, this test uses something that causes cancer to find cancer. I have had mammograms in the past, but I don't plan to have another because I believe there are better options available. Liquid biopsy Liquid biopsy is an emerging diagnostic tool which analyzes specific biomarkers in the blood to provide information on the potential presence of cancer tumors. Years before they are large enough to see on an imaging study, cancer cells leave behind tumor-specific DNA fragments which can be detected in the blood. This technique, which involves a simple blood test, holds increasing promise for detecting cancer at its earliest stages, allowing for timely intervention as well as for monitoring treatment efficacy and detecting recurrence.

Galleri Early Cancer Detection Screening Individualized Cancer Treatment with RGCC Accredited Practitioners Guardant Complete Oncology Testing Thermography Thermography is a non-invasive technique that uses infrared imaging to detect changes in temperature and patterns of blood flow seen in the very early stages of cancer development. Infrared imaging is an FDA-approved adjunct to mammography that can detect thermal abnormalities associated with breast cancer.

In 1956 a Canadian physician first observed that even on the surface of the skin breast cancer tumors were warmer than surrounding breast tissue. Increases in thermogenic activity can be seen in both normal and abnormal tissue, so thermography is best utilized in conjunction with other imaging (ie ultrasound) and biopsy modalities.

One of the primary benefits of thermography is its lack of radiation exposure to the patient. This makes it similar to ultrasound and contrary to conventional mammography. Additionally, it is non-invasive, meaning there is no contact with the breast during imaging. Ultrasound Ultrasound is another non-invasive technique for cancer screening which doesn't utilize ionizing radiation or compression. Typically used as adjuvant to other screening modalities, studies suggest that ultrasound has greater sensitivity and accuracy for detecting breast cancer than mammography in some populations of women. Shaped by tissue density, the transmitted sound waves create the images seen by ultrasound which can guide further diagnostics or biopsy. Unfortunately, most hospitals and clinics will not perform breast ultrasound in the absence of a concurrent mammogram, regardless of a woman's choice to expose herself to a radiation emitting study. MRI "According to studies, breast cancer screening using MRI two times a year is considered better than one mammogram per year to detect breast cancer early in young women who are at high risk of breast cancer."

Most modern imaging studies involve some sort of radiation. The 'radiation can cause cancer' issue bothers me, so for that reason, I am generally a fan of MRI (except for the scanners themselves - they are terrifying lol). MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses powerful magnets, radio waves, and a fancy computer to produce extremely high-resolution images of soft tissues in the body. With this degree of visualization, physicians can see cancers far earlier and with much better precision even in women with extremely dense breast tissue when compared with any other imaging modality.

MRIs became clinically and commercially available in the 1980s and have been used with relative frequency ever since. Despite their obvious advantages (no radiation, superior resolution images), breast MRIs unfortunately have some concerning risks of their own - their requirement for contrast dye. In order to capitalize on the full advantages MRI has to offer, 'contrast' is routinely administered prior to the procedure. I have never seen a breast MRI report without gadolinium contrast dye. Gadolinium is a heavy metal which has well documented ties to severe kidney damage in certain patient populations and long-term tissue deposition in the brain and other soft tissues. In 2007, the FDA issued its infamous Black Box Warning on the use of gadolinium. A Black Box Warning is the most serious type of warning issued by the FDA alerting users to be extremely cautious in weighing the potential risks versus benefits before use.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requiring a new class warning and other safety measures for all gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) concerning gadolinium remaining in patients’ bodies, including the brain, for months to years after receiving these drugs".

Additionally, breast MRI is also exponentially more expensive than traditional mammography - on average 10x more - and typically not covered by insurance companies. Self-Breast Exams (SBEs) SBEs are the worst. Your breasts are lumpy and bumpy on a good day - what kind of lump are you even supposed to be feeling for? If you are still having cycles, they hurt like hell half the time, so don't even try to attempt this until the week after your period. If your partner is like mine, they would love to take this responsibility off your plate, but these things called “hormones” tend to fog all frontal lobes in the room when you take your shirt off. Soo – you might be on your own for this one. Even as a physician I can honestly say it took years to learn the art of clinical breast exam but even then, I was only examining a patient’s breasts once a year. More regularly scheduled comparisons provide much more meaningful data. Your breasts are with you every single solitary day of your life. Get to know them. Set a reminder on your calendar or phone and check in with your breasts on a monthly basis. 60% of breast cancers are found by the women who own those breasts! Learn how to do a self-exam. Delays in diagnosis equate to delays in treatment. Be your own best active advocate in screening.

My Breast Friend Tools for treatment There have been so many advancements in the treatment of breast cancer – immunotherapy, monoclonal antibodies, CAR-T cell therapy, checkpoint inhibitors, proton therapy, and countless non-conventional options. Which route a woman chooses is an extremely personal decision. As a functional health care provider, I feel it is my job to support and rebalance my patient’s system along the way, regardless of the path she takes. Cancer doesn’t come from outer space – it is a symptom of a larger underlying problem that needs to be discovered and treated. Our top priority is eradication - the second is making sure it never returns. Nutrition “You are what you eat.” How many times have you heard this? Food is definitely medicine, but it can easily be poison as well. What we eat makes a dramatic impact on not just our cancer risk but our overall health and well-being. Diet has become tricky in recent years because everywhere you turn, someone is saying something different about what we should and should not be putting in our mouths.

Eat keto, eat vegan, only eat raw, only eat meat, fast, don’t fast, eat more vegetables, fruit is bad….Bahhh. It’s maddening. I think it's good to stick to a few basic principles when it comes to nourishing our bodies with food:

Eat real food – but eat it remembering what chemicals it might have been treated with AND that commercially grown food is raised in soil that has been largely depleted of important vitamins and minerals.

I don’t subscribe to the ‘one diet for everyone’ idea. That doesn’t even make any sense. We’re all uniquely different – how could the same thing be the right thing for everyone? - at least when it comes to diet.

If your food came out of a box, a bag, a can, a jar, contains ingredients you can’t pronounce or is a color that isn’t found in nature, it’s probably not good for you to eat. If the good Lord put that food here on the planet and it wasn’t genetically modified or sprayed with a bunch of chemicals, then it’s probably safe for you eat.

On the topic of fasting, I’m a proponent. Fasting and intermittent fasting are both tools to help our body heal itself – a process known as ‘autophagy’. There are other ways to tap into this self-fix it mode, but restricting the window during which we eat is no doubt one of them. There’s so much to say about diet but I’ll end with ‘go easy on the alcohol’ and Ensure is a class A felony. I’ll stop there for now. Insulin Resistance I preach about this every day. Having poor metabolic stability increases your risk for becoming intimately acquainted with the Four Horseman: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. We're now calling dementia 'type 3 diabetes'. These life changing nightmares are the end game of insulin resistance. In a 'Choose Your Own Ending' type fashion, insulin resistance markedly increases our risk for developing the scariest chronic diseases currently known to modern medicine.

What often brings insulin resistant patients to me isn't cancer. It's weight gain - specifically central weight gain. As insulin levels rise due to mounting levels of insulin resistance, insulin is busy storing fat. At the very basic level, insulin is a 'use these calories' or 'store these calories' kind of hormone. If you don't need that sandwich you just ate for lunch for fuel, guess where it's going. You got it - locked away in a fat storage cell. And not just any fat cell, but in a fat cell most likely located in your midsection - or worse - a brand new fat cell inside of a critical organ like your liver.

Mitigating insulin resistance is often obstacle number one when it comes to weight loss, but bigger than that. it needs to be corrected to mitigate overall risk for most chronic disease. Cancer is one of the end games of poor insulin control. Anything we can do to improve it reduces risk of cancer development and cancer progression. Fasting, intermittent fasting, exercise, botanicals, metformin, and GLP1 agonists are all in the arsenal. The war against insulin resistance is real - and it precedes the war against cancer. Correcting metabolic instability paves the way for sunny skies as it sends the Four Horseman off into the sunset. Sleep Sleep is absolutely foundational. Try this: Get some. I’m the worst offender of this so when I get cancer, you’ll all know why. I never sleep – please don’t do this. Sleep is the time our bodies do their healing. If you don’t sleep, you won’t heal. Period. That whole ‘the older you get, the less sleep you need’ business is nonsense. You need 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night regardless of age.

Turn off your phone, shut off the TV, and go to bed. Supplements I’ll never forget when my mother began her treatment for breast cancer. I was with her when the hospital pharmacist came in and told her she needed to stop taking any unapproved supplements (I'm pretty sure there weren't any vitamins or non-medication supplements on the 'approved list'). When I asked why she wasn’t supposed to take vitamin D, magnesium, or vitamin C, he said “There’s not enough data on those things”. Good grief. That’s just embarrassing.

What he really meant was, he hadn’t taken the time to read a single solitary study on anything that didn’t have to do with the drugs he was giving her. Pharmaceuticals and botanical are both powerful therapies. When formulating a care plan it’s critically important to work with a team of providers educated in both. Energy Energy is a big deal. Your physical body is 99.99999% energy, and the infinitesimally miniscule percentage left over is matter. Everything in this beautiful universe we live in is one of two things: matter or energy. Bad energy is bad for your health. Period. To pretend medicinal energy is woo-hoo is foolish. There’s nothing sci-fi about this – you have an electromagnetic energy field around you, the earth has one around it, we all resonate at about the same frequency. If your overall energy field is resonating in shit-magnet range (you know who these people are), how can you expect your tangible physiology to function optimally? You can’t. Consider the following evidence-based additions to any cancer treatment protocol:

  • Acupuncture

  • Chiropractic

  • Homeopathy

  • Reiki

  • PEMF

  • Mediation

  • Massage

  • Take off your shoes and walk in the sand.

  • Take a nap in the grass.

Ladies – don't save adjustments and massages for birthdays and special occasions. Taking care of yourself isn't a treat - it's essential to staying energetically balanced and well. Make it part of your regular self-care routine. Exercise I hate exercise. I hate everything about it – I even hate saying that I hate it. This isn’t a good start for this section, but I want to be honest here.

For a solid 20 years of my adult life, I forced myself to exercise – I had equipment in my house, at one point I joined a gym, hired a trainer, went to spin class - but the only thing I consistently did was run. I ran at least 4 miles every day. I mean every day. I had an exact 4 mile loop out my front door and back that started up this horrible hill and ended on a smaller but similar one. Ugh. It would have been fine to walk this route alone or with one of my kids in a stroller, but I made myself run it. Alone. I would blast loud music into my brain, disconnect from my body and just power through it – Every. Single. Day. Didn’t matter if I was on call or vacation, whether it was raining or snowing or humid and suffocating, I forced myself to run every day. I got to a point where it no longer hurt to do, it was just an inconvenience to be away from my kids or my bed. One year I started having knee pain when I ran – I couldn’t even tell you when in the year it started or when it was finally severe enough to ask one of my colleagues about it, but by the time that I did, it was bad. The pain became louder than the blaring music which made the running truly unbearable. My MRI showed a massive tibial contusion – an enormous ‘bone bruise’ that encompassed the majority of the large bone in my lower left leg. My vision is largely terrible and I’m no radiologist but even I could see the screaming white inflammation on the scan. The orthopod – a colleague of mine – looked at me after seeing my films and said, "How are you even walking?"

I share this because it’s important to move your body – but you don’t need to disassociate from it to reap the benefits. Do what feels right for you – go for a walk over lunch, take the stairs at work, spend time weeding your garden. Cancer won't crucify you for not getting 10,000 steps a day - just don’t spend your whole life on your couch or at your desk. Get up and move. Your Gut We used to think of the gut as the second brain. Quite honestly, the more I learn about it, the more I’m convinced that our gut is running the whole show. Our gut essentially tells our brain and our immune system how to operate. Sick gut? Sick, dysfunctional immune system. There are countless studies now linking the gut microbiota to everything from metabolism to autoimmunity. Your gut tells your cancer fighting immune system what to do.

Poop in a box. Do a comprehensive digestive stool analysis and learn how to help your gut help you to win the war against cancer. GI-MAP | GI Microbial Assay Plus Endocrine disrupting chemicals We live in the most toxic environment ever. Pesticides, herbicides, plastics, phthalates – there’s really no escaping the fact that we live here. As Americans, we live in a poisonous lap of luxury. You can clean up your environment as much as humanly possible, but your neighbor is still spraying her dandelions with RoundUp.

Let's talk about the "food" we eat - Ritz Crackers, Gatorade, Wheat Thins, Frosted Flakes and Coffee-mate creamer are literally banned in other countries because of the toxic ingredients they contain.

The United States of America has the most resources for good, but still settles for the worst of the worst. Please – try to find me a red M&M in any country other than ours. You can’t. Red dyes are one of the worst endocrine disrupting chemicals to ever disgrace American soil. The toxicity only starts there. Heavy metals, petroleum, mold, etc., etc., etc. – to fight a winning war against cancer means fighting a war with the toughest soldiers in the best condition. Trust me, those guys clean their toilets with vinegar and baking soda, not with Lysol. Test your body for toxic foreign adversaries – identify them and detox, detox, detox. What are you cleaning your house with? What are you putting on your skin? It’s never going to be perfect but clean up what you can.

Don’t burn toxic candles in your house. You’re one woman – I get it. If you aren’t out to save the planet than at least save you and your family’s planet. Those little electrified fragrance pods, air freshening room sprays, and Yankee candles smell amazing, but emit cancer causing chemicals. Find a cute vase, fill it with filtered water, and add some organic essential oils to fragrance your house instead. Chop an apple, throw it in a small pot on your stove and simmer it with a cinnamon stick, whole cloves, and allspice – nontoxic fall flavored deliciousness.

Don’t use poisonous chemicals to sanitize your home. Clean your house with vinegar, baking soda, lemon, and water.

Don't use cancer causing aluminum deodorant. LADIES – the most popular “antiperspirants” contain heavy metals to stop sweating. Heavy metals have time and time again been linked to cancer. If you’re like me, you started using an aluminum-based antiperspirant as a teenager, but it’s never too late to stop. PS: It takes 30 days to detox your armpit pores - when you switch to natural, don't throw in the towel on day 3. Hang in there. Emotional/Spiritual health This is a biggie. The more I read about the relationship between our physical and spiritual health, the more critical I believe this component is. Spiritual wounds manifest as physical ones. If you don’t believe you are worthy of being cancer-free, it is really hard not to be. We manifest our destiny. We have all made mistakes, done the wrong thing, or have been wronged by others. Growth is learning from these things and putting them behind us. Forgive yourself, forgive others, and move forward. No one is saying that's easy - putting the past in the past can be the most difficult thing our brains ever do. Help is available - reach out if you need it. Supportive Therapies This is an entire book all on its own. One of the biggest reasons conventional cancer treatments fail to cure to cancer, is because they fail to eradicate cancer stem cells. Just like regular stem cells, cancer stem cells continue to replace their lost offspring. Gotta get these guys. Some over the counter militia to consider:

  • Cannabinoids

  • Medicinal mushrooms

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin C

  • Melatonin

  • Green tea

  • Omega-3

  • Pancreatic enzymes

  • Modified citrus pectin

  • Zinc

  • Selenium

  • Metformin

  • Antiparasitics

  • Antifungals

  • Curcumin

  • Low dose naltrexone

  • Thymic peptides

  • Autophagy inducers: FWGE/resveratrol/rapalogs

  • Wormwood

  • Artemisinin

Final Thoughts Cancer is a scary word, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a word that should bring us pause – a moment to reflect on how we’re living life right now, and what we need to change in order to keep that life moving forward. In this month of awareness, I hope to shed light on the well documented but often overlooked options for diagnostics and therapeutics in the world of breast cancer.

-Detect cancer early if possible.

-Treat your body as if you already have cancer – feed it good food and nutrients, make it move, let it rest, shield it from toxins, heal the microbiome, and balance energy.

-Find an integrative team skilled in both holistic and conventional therapies to provide options for treatment.

Infrared imaging for breast cancer detection: An objective review of foundational studies and its proper role in breast cancer screening Infrared imaging for breast cancer detection: An objective review of foundational studies and its proper role in breast cancer screening - ScienceDirect

FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA warns that gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) are retained in the body; requires new class warnings FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA warns that gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) are retained in the body; requires new class warnings | FDA


bottom of page