The Causes of Breast Cancer
Each year in the United States almost 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. While there is an abundance of information on Western biomedical treatments, treatments for the prevention of breast cancer are relatively unknown. While many women have a genetic predisposition to this disease, many others do not. In both cases there are steps they can take to prevent breast cancer from occurring. And while this article is addressed to women, breast cancer can and does occur in men although they number less than 2% of all recorded cases.
Some of the causative factors include poor diet, lack of exercise, accumulated physical and mental stress, environment toxins such as food additives, contaminated water, and pesticides, and prolonged hormonal (estrogen) exposure of the breast tissue due to endogenous and external factors.
The Chinese Medical View of Breast Cancer
According to the principles of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), many diseases of the breast are related and have the same underlying disease mechanisms. Because Chinese medicine can diagnose these mechanisms before symptoms appear, we can catch these diseases in their early stages. And, in fact, if we catch these diseases in their early stages, we can prevent them from progressing to more serious disease stages such as cancer.
From a Chinese medical prospective, all breast diseases have stagnation as the root cause. In the Chinese medical view, the body is traversed by the channels of acupuncture. The life force, called Qi (pronounced chee), circulates through these channels on a continuous basis. Any interruption or blockage of this flow will result in an imbalance either in the local area or in the entire system.
In Chinese medicine there is a saying, "If there is free flow, there is no pain. If there is pain, there is no free flow." So, if there is pain, what is it that is not flowing? In TCM, there are three things that are flowing. It is the Qi, the Blood and the Body fluids.
Since Qi is the force that moves the Blood and Body Fluids, a blockage of Qi will also result in a disruption to the flow of the blood and lymph fluids.
If the Qi is obstructed, this is called Qi stagnation and there might be distention, pain or lumps. If the Blood is not flowing, this is called Blood stasis, and there can be intense, stabbing pain or clots in the menstrual blood. And finally, if the fluids are not flowing, this is called damp accumulation or phlegm nodulation, and there can be a feeling of swollenness, heaviness or cysts. These imbalances might not necessarily lead to cancer but they are the underlying disease mechanisms that we find in almost all breast diseases, including cancer.
In the acupuncture clinic, our women patients come to see us because they have one or more of these symptoms that are disrupting their everyday life. Some of the most common breast complaints seen in the clinic are:
• Premenstrual breast pain and soreness
• Fibroadenomas (benign masses)
• Cysts (fluid filled sacs)
• Breast abscesses (mastitis)
The Acupuncture Treatment for Breast Disease
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are the two main treatment methods of professional Chinese medicine. In general, the more there are physical changes in the breast tissue, the more the emphasis should be placed on herbal medicine versus acupuncture. Having said that, acupuncture is an extremely important part of the process because of its almost immediate effects in the relief of swelling, pain, and anxiety.
When the appropriate acupuncture points are needled, blockages to the flow of Qi are removed and stagnant Qi and fluids will begin to disperse. This is one of the mechanisms of acupuncture and one of the reasons for the quick reduction of pain and swelling.
By far the most common ailment among women is breast soreness and pain during the week leading up to menstruation. And although, by itself, it is not considered dangerous, it is important to correct this problem to prevent its progression into something more serious.
As soon as PMS breast symptoms appear, treatment with acupuncture should start and be repeated as frequently as possible until the first day of menstruation. This protocol is repeated again the next month and if the patient has been following her practitioner's advice about diet and lifestyle, the symptoms should be less severe and less prolonged. This process should be continued until the symptoms have disappeared. Most cases of premenstrual breast distention can be resolved in 3 – 6 menstrual cycles.
By keeping the Qi of the breast unobstructed and free flowing, not only are we preventing PMS breast soreness, we are dealing with the same exact disease mechanisms that create tumors, cysts, and, yes, breast cancer.
My next article will focus on Chinese & Western dietary therapy and their role in cancer prevention.