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 Breast Cancer: Revisiting Accepted Wisdom in the Management of Breast Cancer - Part 2 

Another major assumption now under question is that people can be separated into two groups: those with metastatic disease and those without. Many leading oncologists now believe that at the time of detection, breast cancer is systemic. In this case, mastectomy plays no role in increasing survival. For the smaller group of women in whom the disease may not be systemic, breast-conserving surgery will remove the local tumor. Finally, when a woman learns that she has breast cancer, and that there is a large probablility the disease is systemic, this does not automatically mean that she will die soon. Roughly 50% to 60% of these women will survive, many for decades. The significant features determining longevity appear to be the biology of the tumor and the resistance of the host.

Times Change... and Remain the Same
Craig Henderson put it simply: "We're all prisoners of our oncogenes." He has taken a leave from clinical medicine to work with molecular biologists in the private sector. Molecular biology is now at the hub of inquiry, prompting a review of customary protocols by some, though the bulk of practice remains the same. At the conclusion of a 1994 symposium of carcinoma of the breast, Marvin Gliedman33(pp351-362), of Albert Einstein College of Medicine queried, "I wonder if breast cancer is a surgical disease any more." Samuel Hellman and Ralph Weichselbaum" of the University of Chicago say that "[b]ecause of the importance of systemic metastases and the current emphasis on treatments for systemic disease, one may question whether as a regional treatment radiation oncology, like surgery, will have an increasingly restricted role in cancer management."

Concerning the state of chemotherapy today, oncologists Albert Deisseroth and Vincent DeVita48 of the Yale School of Medicine have commented that the most important findings of the last 30 years have been that drugs could cure some forms of cancer--namely leukemias, Iymphomas, and some epithelial cancers. They call it both perplexing and disappointing that 90% of all drug cures occur in only 10% of cancer types. Although it was first thought that cancer cells grow more quickly than do normal cells, this has turned out not to be the case. Instead, cancer is caused by a failure on the part of the cell: instead of deciding to divide, it should, for the sake of the organism, choose to be dormant.48

Molecular biology, trumpeted by some as the next great frontier of hope, examines the metabolic pathways that constitute the biochemical basis of all life. Molecular answers are being ardently pursued in order to solve the riddle of why cancer occurs. Life is dependent on proteins, which are themselves a string of amino acids. One focus of this biochemical inquest is upon the regulatory proteins responsible for cell division. This is because cancer is understood as the proliferation of cells without restriction. Somehow the proper regulatory mechanism has been disabled when cells are replicating wildly. It is believed that the coding of the DNA determines the composition of amino acids, which in turn shapes the protein in any given tissue. This DNA is the repository of the genetic code of the organism--that which is passed on to propagate the species and prescribes who someone is structurally and functionally. Part of the DNA is wound tightly and part is unwound. When certain proteins become inappropriately unwound, it is thought to produce uncontrolled cell division. The expectation is that manipulation of these proteins may produce a shut-off valve for the carcinogenic process.

(Excerpted from Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine)
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 About The Author
Harriet Beinfield LAcHarriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O.M.D. have pioneered the practice of Chinese medicine in America for the last 28 years as educators, writers, and practitioners. They are the co-authors of the......more
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