If you have been told you have metastatic breast cancer, cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Hearing you have metastatic disease is quite overwhelming, but this stage of disease in NOT hopeless. Yes, many people with with metastatic disease live long productive lives. To help you control it, the following information comes directly from research on cancer and metastatic disease.
Once genes are damaged and can no longer stop cell growth and/or cause the damaged cell to commit suicide, cells with mutations in the DNA rapidly proliferate until they become a tumor.
Once a tumor reaches the size of one millimeter, it needs its own blood supply to provide nutrients for its survival.
This tiny tumor spits compounds into the blood that cause neighboring blood vessels to sprout new blood vessels, which eventually reach the tumor to supply it with nutrients.
The process of blood-vessel growth is called angiogenesis. With nourishment, the cancer cells continue to rapidly divide, increasing the size of the tumor until it becomes detectable.
With continued growth, cells from the tumor can become invasive, leaving their normal site to migrate to other parts of the body.
This is called metastasis—the process whereby cancer cells from a primary site spread to a distant location, where they develop a secondary tumor. When cancer is first diagnosed, many patients show no evidence of metastasis. However, metastases can be detected at a later time.
Because metastasis is a covert process, information regarding its mechanism is limited.
In my research on the process of metastasis, I learned that we have more control over it than we think.
According to a study published in Nature Reviews, metastasis is an inefficient process. After the cancer cells are shed off the primary tumor, they have to survive an attack from the immune system while circumventing mechanical factors, such as the size of the blood vessels they must travel through.
If cancer cells make it to a distant organ, they also have to survive the internal environment of that organ.
To put this into perspective, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine states that only a tiny minority (0.01 percent or fewer) of cancer cells entering circulation actually develop into metastases.
Simply stated, if ten thousand cancer cells exist, only one will survive. Basically, a rogue cancer cell, or a group of clones that break off a tumor, rarely survive in the body unless something favors survival.
What is it about the internal environment of the body that would favor the survival of those cells, thus allowing them to grow into a secondary, health-threatening tumor?
Listed here are some of the known reasons behind cancer-cell survival and metastasis:
- Nutrient deficiencies
- When the diet is absent of nutrient-dense foods, and/or the diet consists of lots of bread, dairy, processed sugar, and too much alcohol, the lack of nutrients cause immune dysfunction, elevated cortisol, more DNA damage, and poor DNA repair.
- Research from Cancer and Metastasis Reviews states nutrients found in edible plants can inhibit the metastatic progression of cancer. Nutrients, including polyphenols, EPA and DHA from fish oil, EGCG from green tea, vitamin D, allicin (garlic), caffeic acid from coffee, capsaicin from chili peppers, curcumin, quercetin, resveratrol, sulforaphane, and indol-3-carbinol derived from spices, legumes, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, can regulate inflammatory pathways, and metastasis suppressor genes.
- Elevated stress hormones—cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Chronic stress and the prolonged stress reaction cause the slow constant release of cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. These stress hormones have been shown to ignite the cancer process and cause metastatic cells to become immortal. (Read the blog on stress and cancer.)
- Immune suppression—high blood sugar, nutrient deficiency, and elevated cortisol will reduce function of Natural Killer Cells and Cytotoxic T‑Cells that function to destroy cancer.
- Active states of inflammation—CRP, IL‑6, TNF, ESR, uric acid, and some other biomarkers tell the story of active inflammation in the body. The cause of the inflammation needs to be found. The five biggest factors that cause inflammation are: processed foods, physical inactivity, stress hormones, sleep deprivation, and toxins (food-borne and environmental).
- Elevated body fat—Fat, also called adipose tissue, is involved in numerous mechanisms that promote tumor development. Both fat and tumors are low in oxygen, a state called hypoxia. When both fat cells and cancer cells lack oxygen, they release a protein called hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF1). HIF1 from fat is known to cause dysfunction in the immune system, which is needed to fight cancer. HIF1 from a tumor causes surrounding blood vessels to sprout new blood vessels to provide nutrients to the developing tumor. HIF1 from fat cells contributes to all stages of cancer development, including cell growth, proliferation, and metastasis.
- Body fat causes inflammation. Elevated body fat spits out inflammatory messengers called cytokines, one being interleukin 6 (IL‑6). IL‑6 is an inflammatory agent that has many effects, including regulating different malignant cancers (prostate, lung, and breast). IL‑6 is known to increase cancer-cell proliferation, survival, and invasion into other tissues. IL‑6 was also shown to suppress the components of the immune system needed to fight cancer and tumor activity.
- Elevated blood sugar, insulin and IGF‑1—When your diet provides too much sugar for your body to handle, the cells eventually reject insulin, a condition also known as insulin resistance. This causes excess sugar to remain in the blood, leading to an increase in both subcutaneous and visceral fat (fat surrounding the organs). The visceral fat eventually becomes a hormone-producing organ that causes more insulin resistance, inflammation, and the production of the hormone estrogen. Here is where the danger lies. Research published in Integrative Cancer Therapies, Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome and Molecular Cancer shows the role of the hormones insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) in enhancing cancer growth and tumor development. Insulin and IGF1 were shown to increase cancer proliferation and prevent cancer cells from activating their programmed cell death (apoptosis) and metastasis.
To control this process YOU MUST improve the function of your internal terrain. This means getting rid of bread, dairy, and processed refined sugar.
This will help regulate blood sugar, and reduce body fat and inflammation. Get some form of exercising baked into your daily routine. Physical activity reduces inflammation, regulates blood sugar and insulin, and reduces body fat. Try to get seven to eight hours a sleep a night, as anything less than six hours a night causes inflammation.
Change your perception of your stressors to reduce the surge of stress hormones in the blood that drive the cancer process.
Last, eliminate all food-borne toxins and environmental toxins that include gluten, dairy, processed sugars, food dyes, BPA from plastics, herbicides, and pesticides. If you smoke, you must stop and/or find help to stop.
I didn’t forget about alcohol. A drink once in a while should cause no issues. However, drinking every day causes a massive depletion of vital nutrients, including magnesium, most if not all your B vitamins, zinc, selenium, and other vitamins. The biggest contributor to the cancer process is nutrient deficiencies.
Why is treatment for metastatic breast cancer often ineffective? Because treatment is not targeting all pieces of the internal terrain that originally drove the cancer process.
Elevated blood sugar, high insulin, elevated body fat, nutrient deficiencies, and conditions that increase inflammation will reduce the therapeutic effects of the chemotherapy. The state whereby cancer cells reject chemo is called “chemo-resistance”. There are specific proteins found within cancer cells that act as cellular pumps to enable cancer cells to prevent chemo from killing them.
These pumps can be shut down by regulating your blood sugar, eating nutrient-dense foods, increasing the vitamin D in your blood to 80ng/ml, and drinking green tea with EGCG.
The point is this: to make chemo more effective and to reduce the chance of metastasis you must resolve the factors discussed above. By doing so, you have a much greater chance of winning the war on your cancer.
Chiang AC, Massague J. Molecular basis of metastasis. New England Journal of Medicine 2008;359:2814-23
Gupta SC, Hye Kim J, Prasad S, et al. Regulation of survival, proliferation, invasion, angiogenesis, and metastasis of tumor cells through modulation of inflammatory pathways by nutraceuticals. Cancer and Metastasis Reviews. September 2010, Volume 29, issue 3 pp 405–434
Panagiotis FC, Msaaouel P, Koutsillieris M. The role of the insulin-like growth factor-1 system in breast cancer. Molecular Cancer (2015) 14:43