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What Is Breast Cancer?
an article by Susun S. Weed

Breast cancer is unchecked growth of abnormal breast cells:

• What causes cells to become abnormal and reproduce wildly? Damage to the DNA, the brain of the cell, which causes mutations and activation of oncogenes. Usually one mutation isn’t enough; most cells must undergo several mutations before they become cancerous. (Sometimes the mutations must occur in sequence to create a cancer, sometimes random order will do it.) What causes DNA damage? Radiation, free radicals, genetic defects, electrical fields, chemicals, drugs, viruses, and metabolic stresses.

Injury to the DNA initiates all cancer:

• When mutations accumulate and oncogenes turn on, the cell is initiated. It is abnormal, but not cancerous. Initiated cells are diagnosed as atypia, dysplasia, or hyperplasia.

• Damaged cells alone offer no threat to long life. To become threatening, the abnormal cells must be promoted. Promoters bring the cells nutrients so they can reproduce. (One of the strongest promoters of breast cancer is estrogen.) Although promoted cells can disguise themselves so the immune system won’t recognize them, most of them are seen and eaten, or encapsulated by the body so they do no harm. Promoted cells are called carcinoma in situ.

According to Christiane Northrup, M.D., in situ cancer cells are frequently found in the breasts of women who die of causes other than cancer. And according to Susan Love, M.D., breast cancer specialist, in situ cells are reversible without invasive treatments and shouldn’t be thought of as cancers.

The cancer cascade: initiation, promotion, growth:

• Promoted breast cells, no matter how many of them there are, are not classified as invasive unless they spread out of the tissues of origin and into the surrounding tissues. This is the growth phase. When promoted cells enter the growth phase, they begin to form a tumor and to recruit blood vessels to help supply their immense need for nutrients. (The tumor may grow so quickly that cells in its center die from lack of nourishment.) The diagnosis now becomes infiltrating or invasive carcinoma.

The cancer cascade can be halted or reversed:

• Once a mass of abnormal, quickly-replicating cells has created a network of blood vessels, individual cancer cells can separate from the tumor and travel to other parts of the body. Because the breast is not vital to life, a breast cancer that stays in the breast is not life-threatening. But if breast cancer cells get to the liver, lungs, bone marrow, or the brain and continue to grow, they can hinder the functioning of processes necessary for life. The body attempts to check this spread by locking breast cancer cells in lymph node prisons and by sending immune system cells out to eat traveling cancer cells. If cancer cells are found in the axillary lymph nodes, the diagnosis is aggressive or metastasized carcinoma.

Ninety percent of cancer deaths are from metastases:

• Not everyone whose cellular DNA is damaged will get cancer. Why not? All cells have the capacity to repair themselves or to shut down if they are mutated or damaged. Good lifestyle habits and ordinary foods such as lentils also reverse DNA damage.

Special immune cells eat potential cancers:

• The wear-and-tear of life gives rise to so many mutated, abnormal, initiated cells (even in a healthy person) that the immune system forms a constant stream of specialized cells to seek out and consume them. So long as the immune system is strong, and well supplied with nutrients, initiated and promoted cells can be harmlessly eliminated, checking the possibility of cancer.

Cancer cells are immature yet reproduce without limits. Living long past their normal span, they appear immortal:

• Building powerful immunity isn’t always enough, though. Cancer cells can trick the immune system into leaving them alone, and they can replicate so rapidly that they overwhelm the immune system with sheer force of numbers. One of the reasons breast cancer is so difficult to treat is that cancer cells are full of life. They no longer have the inner signal that tells them to die after reproducing. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, the woman with breast cancer finds herself with cancer cells that replicate unceasingly. Cancer cells never grow up and become productive members of their community. They simply take up space.

Breast cancer is not one disease, but many:

• Because there are different types of cells in the breasts (e.g., ducts and lobes) and a variety of ways that a cell can be abnormal, there are many kinds of breast cancers and many possible treatments. Of the two dozen kinds of breast cancer known, the majority originate in the duct cells. (See illustration of duct cells, page 106 in Breast Cancer? Breast Health!)

• Some breast cancers grow slowly, others quickly. Slow growing breast cancers double in size every 42­100 days or more. Quick growing breast cancers can double every 21 days. Pre- and peri-menopausal women tend to have faster growing, more aggressive breast cancers (about 10­15 percent of all breast cancers).

• Post-menopausal women, who account for 60­80 percent of all breast cancer cases, usually have slow-growing cancers, which rarely metastasize.

Microscopic examination of cellular tissue is the only scientifically accepted way to diagnose cancer.

• The first breast surgery most women will have is a biopsy. When there is a suspicious finding on a mammogram or a palpable lump, there is no way to rule out cancer unless a piece of breast tissue is removed and examined under a microscope by a pathologist. If there is a diagnosis of cancer and further surgery is done, the breast tissues removed are also sent to the pathologist.

• The pathologist can see cancerous cells if they are present and can determine the type and state of the cancer by a variety of signs. These findings are collected into a pathology report which will, to a great degree, determine the treatment options that you will be offered. Pathology reports are based on opinion as well as fact, so many women have two, three, or even four different pathologists look at their tissue samples and give an opinion.

• To judge the “stage” of a cancer (see page 137, Breast Cancer? Breast Health!), lymph glands are removed (excised) from the nearby armpit. Lymph gland excision always cuts some of the nerves to the arm. Removal of the lymph glands does nothing to treat or cure breast cancer, and may hinder the body’s ability to deal with cancer. Lymph gland removal can cause numbness as well as pain, impaired circulation, swelling (sometimes severe and long-lasting), and a life-long risk of severe infection. The more lymph nodes removed, the more severe these side effects.

• Lack of cancer cells in the lymph nodes doesn’t guarantee that the cancer hasn’t metastasized (one-third of all women with negative nodes nonetheless have metastasizing cancer), but a positive finding does indicate that the cancer has metastasized and may be growing elsewhere in the body.

It is difficult to determine if a cancer will metastasize:

• Aggressive (metastatic) cancer requires more vigorous treatment than invasive (non-metastatic) cancer. And treatment is more effective if undertaken before the metastasized cells begin to form masses in critical organs. But micro-metastases and small clumps of cells are extremely difficult to find. What to do?

Orthodox treatments include: Surgery to remove the primary tumor. Radiation to eliminate any other cancer cells in the breast tissues. Chemotherapy to kill any other cancer cells in the body. (But those that survive - and some always do - mutate and become invulnerable to further chemotherapy.) And hormones such as tamoxifen to check recurrence and metastatic growth.

Alternative treatments include: Caustic herbs and pastes to burn away the primary cancer. Nourishing, tonifying, and stimulating treatments for building immune strength. And a variety of anti-cancer compounds used systemically to eliminate cancer cells in the breasts and elsewhere in the body. Exercise and a diet of healthy food, nourishing infusions, healing oils, and phytoestrogen-rich herbs to counter recurrence.

• Does survival after a diagnosis of breast cancer depend on orthodox medical treatments? Women who refuse such treatments do not die sooner than women who follow orthodoxy, according to an old (1977), but still valid, study by Hardin B. Jones, professor of medical physics. (“A Report on Cancer” is available at the library of the University of California at Berkeley.)

If you liked this excerpt by Susun S. Weed, you will want
Breast Cancer? Breast Health! available from

Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material on this website/email is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.

Susun Weed
PO Box 64
NY 12498
Fax: 1-845-246-8081

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Vibrant, passionate, and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings, and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges conventional medical approaches with humor, insight, and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine. Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.

Susun is one of America's best-known authorities on herbal medicine and natural approaches to women's health. Her four best-selling books are recommended by expert herbalists and well-known physicians and are used and cherished by millions of women around the world. Learn more at

This article is © copyright Susun S. Weed - Republished here with kind permission. 2007


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