Posts Tagged ‘Breast’
New research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute this month shows that targeted radiation for breast cancer has been widely overused. The research uses new criteria established in 2009 by the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) for the use of brachytherapy (targeted irradiation for breast cancer). It compares that new criteria with patient records from the past several years, showing that 2/3 of those receiving brachytherapy probably should not have.
Using records from 138,815 U.S. women who’d received brachytherapy from 2000 to 2007, the study shows that most of them do not fit into the currently recommended criteria for the therapy. This would likely account for some higher recurrence rates amongst the women.
The study compared women who received targeted radiation and those who received the more common whole breast irradiation (WBI). It found that 29.6% of the women receiving brachytherapy would have been classified as “cautionary” (not likely to benefit) and 36.2% would have been classified as “unsuitable” under current ASTRO criteria.
The study briefly discussed cancer return rates (versus recurrence in WBI), but admits that this data would be too preliminary given the specific scope of the study itself.
Targeted irradiation is more convenient for women, since it requires only about a week of therapy instead of a full month, but is designed for very specific situations that only about 7-10% of breast cancer patients fall into. Its use, the study found, varies greatly by geographic region, by rural versus urban (urban is more likely), and by racial demographic (whites are more likely to receive it), but not necessarily by means or income (Medicare covers it).
Findings from another study published this year show that women who receive brachytherapy at twice as likely to eventually have a mastectomy than those who receive WBI.
by Marla Manhart
Many women are choosing to self-treat their own breast cancer, according to a survey conducted by TMD Limited, a medical tourism company. When faced with the possibility of losing a breast or being side-lined by chemotherapy, some women are going the natural route and treating themselves.
The internet offers hundreds of products and websites that tout cures and advice on self-treatment. Teas, castor oil packs, vitamins, salves that pull tumors out of the body, Brazilian healers and wheat grass enemas are favorites when it comes to self treatment. And it seems, according to the cancer patients surveyed, that these therapies appear to work in the beginning. Patients feel more energy, and think their tumors are shrinking. They could be experiencing a placebo effect, or in some cases may actually see their tumors temporarily reduce in size. Eventually, these patients end up getting medical treatment, some after years of treating themselves.
According to the American Cancer Society, 230,480 women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and 39,520 women will die from breast cancer in 2011. With so many women self-diagnosing and choosing their own treatments, one wonders what the real numbers would be if women who are self-treating were included.
Sharon Massey first discovered her breast lump when she was 32. ”I just knew it was cancer. But I did not want to lose my breast. My mom died of breast cancer and I was not going to do the conventional treatments she did,” Massey said. ”I went to a nutritionist, and took hundreds of supplements. I changed my diet to all raw foods, exercised and refused to think about cancer. I became a health nut, and no one knew about my lump.”
Massey self treated for 11 years. Eventually, the mass grew so large it broke through her skin, bleeding and causing pain. Finally, she saw an oncologist, and had a radical mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. ”I shouldn’t have waited,” she said. ”Maybe if I had been treated earlier, I could have saved my breast. Fear kept me from seeing a doctor all those years.”
Cheryl Watts was 49 when she found a mass in her right breast. She was newly married to her second husband, and starting a new career as a real estate agent. ”I had so much going on, I just didn’t have time for cancer,” Watts explained. ”I ran 25 miles a week, had a busy social life and was so happy in my new marriage. The thought of a mastectomy, or of losing my hair to chemo just made me feel ill. So I kept it to myself, and just did everything I could to stay healthy. When my husband eventually felt the mass, he insisted I get medical help. I compromised, and went to an alternative clinic in Mexico. And I have been in remission now for 6 years, and I still have my breast.”
TMD’s study included hundreds of women who sought help from clinics south of the border. Tumor size when patients finally sought help ranged from walnut to grapefruit size, and many had broken through the skin and were growing around the chest and armpit. For these women, the average length of time between finding a lump and getting treatment was 5.3 years. All cited fear of mastectomy and the experience of watching a loved one die after undergoing radiation and chemotherapy as the main reason they avoided conventional treatment. Lack of insurance was also a big factor.
According to TMD’s survey, more and more women are taking charge of their own health and making their own treatment decisions. This may be a good thing – but even alternative doctors caution patients to seek some kind of medical treatment early – when the cancer can be treated successfully.
One physician who has seen this shift treats many patients that have not had any conventional treatment. Dr. Antonio Jimenezof Hope4Cancer Institute used to mainly treat patients who had been through chemo and radiation, and had been told to get their affairs in order. ”Today we are seeing many breast cancer patients that self-treated for years. They generally take good care of themselves, watch their diet and are careful not to compromise their immune system. These patients tend to fare better than those who have undergone extensive surgeries and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, cancer treatment is not a do-it-yourself project.”
Raised in New Jersey, Jimenez has practiced in Baja, Mexico for over 20 years, first as medical director of a large hospital there, and since 2001 as medical director and chief physician of Hope4Cancer Institute. He does not use chemotherapy or radiation, and offers non-invasive therapies from around the world. His breast cancer success rate rivals anything conventional medicine has to offer.
“We see more and more women who have spent thousands of dollars on supplements and ‘wonder cures’ they used at home, Jimenez says. ”When those treatments fail, they look for a clinic that can help. Often, they will go to alternative treatment centers in the US, but those clinics can only offer immune support and detox. In the US, clinics are not legally able to use the ‘big guns’ like medical hyperthermia and SonoPhoto Dynamic Therapy that attack the cancer. These are not alternative therapies – they are actually mainstream cancer treatments in many countries around the world that have better healthcare systems that the US. Just because they have not been submitted for approval in the US does not make them alternative therapies.”
“When all else fails, they look outside the US for a clinic that can help. By then, the tumors are often so large the patient has to undergo debulking surgery before we can treat them. There are many options out there other than surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Being pro-active doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. It’s just a matter of finding the right doctor and the right clinic.”
Author Marla Manhart is a medical writer and patient advocate. She can be reached at: email@example.com.