The below conversation dives deep into what breast cancer is, the myth that breast cancer is only something we should worry about with age, how adding certain foods/supplements such as CBD may help, what to avoid, and tips for self-examination.
Dr. Jaclyn Tolentino - Board Certified Family Physician and Functional Medicine Doctor practicing at Parsley Health who sees patients virtually across the states of California and Florida. She is a young breast cancer survivor, which has partially inspired some of the work she does with patients in areas like integrative oncology and hormone wellness.
Parsley Health is the nation’s leading holistic medical practice designed to help women overcome chronic conditions and feel better. We analyze the whole picture of your health, supporting multiple health conditions at the same time, and we develop long term relationships with our patients to find lasting relief.
For those who may be unaware, could you explain what breast cancer is?
- Breast cancer occurs when some of the cells of your breast begin to grow abnormally.
- Most breast cancers either begin in our milk ducts (we call these ductal cancers), or the glands that produce breast milk (we call these lobular cancers).
- Typically, this abnormal growth of cells will begin to form a lump or a mass - sometimes we can actually feel that lump ourselves, and other times, these masses are discovered during diagnostic imaging such as mammography.
- Not all lumps or growths in your breasts are breast cancer! You can have cysts in the breasts - these are usually totally benign, and can feel either hard or soft depending on how deep they are down in our breast tissue.
- Fibroadenomas are also non-cancerous lumps - these are actually the most common benign lumps women experience, and they usually feel kind of firm or rubbery, and you can move them under your skin.
- It's really important though to make sure you're getting regular exams from a physician, and doing whatever the recommended preventive screening for your age and risk level is, because that's going to help distinguish between the benign growths and things that might be more serious.
Could you tell us more about the myth that breast cancer is something we should worry about until we get "older"?
- Breast cancer can affect people at any age - that's why I feel that it's really important that I share my story, because I was diagnosed at the age of 34, but it's also important to remember that breast cancer is not just a disease of women, or a disease of "older people"
- Breast cancer can impact individuals of any age - that's why it's so crucial to know what your risk factors are and how that might relate to the type of screening and prevention you need
- Most people have this idea that breast cancer is a "hereditary disease," that it's something you don't really need to worry about if there's no history of breast cancer in your family.
- But that's definitely NOT TRUE! Somewhere between 5-15% of breast cancer cases are related to inherited genes - regardless of your family history, breast cancer is still something that needs to stay on your radar.
Would you be able to share your story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 34?
- I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2016 - I am now five years out from my diagnosis, but at the time it was absolutely shocking and my life just changed overnight
- I do have a family history of breast cancer, so that is a risk factor that played a role in my story - that's definitely not true of every story, but it was a part of mine
- My treatment journey was involved standard, conventional strategies like surgery, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy
- But I also used holistic and integrative techniques as a very big part of my healing and recovery process - I was very focused on my nutrition, I used mind-body techniques, and relied really heavily on supportive movement to rebuild my strength and aid in my physical recovery
- Breast cancer in young adults is still pretty rare, less than 5% diagnosed in women under 40
- Everybody's cancer experience is unique, but I think there are also some unique challenges that you face as a young adult dealing with breast cancer, and some complex decisions you have to make.
CBD has been known to regenerate the cells in the breast rapidly. Some research even says it can block the gene and stop the growth of breast cancer. Can you share with us what you know? Due to your holistic approach to practicing medicine, could you share foods, plants and/or vitamins that are known for their anti-cancer and cancer-fighting properties?
- In terms of my own personal anti-cancer wellness routine, I'm a big fan of using diet and nutrition strategies - I incorporate a lot of key antioxidants into my diet, lots of greens and cruciferous vegetables, I love sprouts and I actually grow my own at home, sweet potato, organic berries, lots of avocado
- I also eat a lot of omega-rich foods like wild-caught fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia
- And I love herbs from traditional chinese medicine, adaptogens, and anti-inflammatory compounds like curcumin (found in Juna's Ease collection)
- There's some promising research happening in the area of cannabis medicine and breast cancer - a lot of this research is in the really early stages, but it will be interesting to see how that develops, and how it might impact some of the therapeutic modalities we see in cancer care in the future
- The idea behind some of this research is that cannabinoids might be used in conjunction with other first line therapies, like chemotherapy, to optimize their effectiveness
W- e also know that a lot of individuals are using cannabis for relief from symptoms associated with breast cancer and treatment, such as pain, anxiety, or nausea, and that’s something I would definitely advocate talking with your doctor about if you're interested in it - a lot of people get relief from cannabis medicine, but you do want to make sure your care team is involved in the decision to use it
- There's some interesting research on the possibility that cannabinoids might impair tumor growth through multiple pathways - this is a really exciting time to be exploring plant medicine and the way that it might modulate the behavior of cancer cells in the body, especially for cancers that are hormone receptor positive (meaning those cancer cells contain receptors that respond to the presence of hormones like estrogen or progesterone)
- We do know that cannabinoids might not be the right choices for all cancers, and that for some cancers they might actually trigger tumor growth, rather than impair it - that's why we really need that research to help us identify the right applications for cannabinoids in cannabis cancer therapy.
- I think there's definitely a role for plant-based medicine in cancer care - which is why we have to push for more research and data collection, so eventually we can create really sound guidelines for utilizing cannabis clinically.
- Researchers are already documenting experiences that individuals with cancer using cannabis have had, which is how we're going to better understand how people are using this medicine, and how it's helping them manage their condition.
Juna's Ease collection is also great for combatting inflammation in the body on the topical, Ease functional body oil, is great for using during self exams.
What are some things we can do at home to be more aware of our breasts? (Tips for self-examination via touch and visual changes).
- Not everyone recommends self-breast examinations anymore, but I still think there's value in this practice, primarily because it encourages you to get familiar with your body, so that you can recognize if there's any changes happening suddenly, or over time
- There's a lot of great resources out there on performing the self breast exam, I particularly like one video produced by the Moffitt Cancer Center, but I would also encourage you to have your gynecologist or primary care doctor show you how to perform the exam
- Definitely make sure you're doing it at the same time every month, preferably a few days after your period ends - or, if you don't have periods, just pick a similar time each month that will be easy to remember
- Remember, you're looking for changes in your skin texture like dimpling, puckering, bulging
- Also look for changes in your nipple position, and redness or soreness, or any sudden swelling
- Those don't necessarily indicate a serious issue, but they're definitely something you're going to want to have your doctor take a look at.