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Topic: Breast Cancer and your Immune System

Forum: Alternative Medicine —

This forum is a safe, judgement-free place to discuss Alternative medicine. Alternative medicine refers to treatments that are used INSTEAD of standard, evidence-based treatment. Breastcancer.org does NOT recommend or endorse alternative medicine.

Posted on: Jan 2, 2012 06:17AM

sweetbean wrote:

Hi everyone,

I wanted to address what I think is a common misconception about breast cancer.  It is that somehow if you got breast cancer, your immune system wasn't doing its job, so all you need to do is get it going again and you will be fine.  I used to think that when I was first diagnosed, but I have done a ton of research and have learned two things.

1.) Breast cancer, unlike melanoma or kidney cancer, is not an immunogenic cancer.  It doesn't respond to immune boosting therapies the way other cancers do.

2. ) Breast cancer is adept at hiding from the immune system, so even if your immune system is gangbusters, it may not be able to detect the cancer cells.

I am pointing this out because I feel a lot of women choose their treatment based on the idea that if they can just get their immune system to do its job, they will be fine.  This is not the case. You can have a great immune system and never get another cold and still end up with cancer or progression.  You are better off choosing therapies that destroy the cancer cell's cloaking mechanism (something like Avemar would probably be effective) or cause anti-angiogenesis.   Once the cancer cells are significantly weakened, a strong immune system can probably (hopefully) take care of it.  

Also, for those that say that chemo destroys your immune system...not always.  It didn't destroy mine.  A combination of Neulasta and several CAM therapies kept me healthy as a horse throughout treatement.   

 Good luck! 

Dx 11/18/2010, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 2/15 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH)
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Jan 2, 2012 08:46AM - edited Jan 2, 2012 05:44PM by digger

This Post was deleted by digger.
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Jan 2, 2012 08:52AM Momine wrote:

Thanks for posting sweetbean. I did not exactly enjoy chemo, but I also got through 8 TXs with no ill effects other than a bit of diarrhea and other annoyances. Like you I got a neulasta shot after each chemo.

Dx 6/1/2011, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIB, Grade 2, 7/23 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- Chemotherapy 6/20/2011 Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), Ellence (epirubicin), Fluorouracil (5-fluorouracil, 5-FU, Adrucil), Taxotere (docetaxel) Surgery 9/13/2011 Mastectomy: Left, Right Radiation Therapy 1/9/2012 Surgery 3/8/2012 Prophylactic ovary removal Hormonal Therapy 4/1/2012 Femara (letrozole)
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Jan 2, 2012 09:16AM sweetbean wrote:

I'm not too worried about being blasted, because everyone on this forum knows that I do a TON of CAM therapies and really believe in their efficacy.  (Would I do them in place of conventional treatment?  No.  But I do believe that there are many effective CAM treatments that can help prevent recurrence.)   I'm also hardcore about diet and lifestyle, so I walk the walk, so to speak.  

I posted because I see people making treatment decisions based on information that they may have gleaned from other alternative websites that focus on another type of cancer.  So I just wanted to give people more information, so that if they do choose purely alternative methods for their treatment, that they choose options that are effective.  I was only diagnosed a little over a year ago, but I have still seen too many alt women progress to Stage IV, even while they don't have so much as a sniffle.   

Dx 11/18/2010, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 2/15 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH)
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Jan 2, 2012 12:17PM - edited Jan 2, 2012 05:44PM by digger

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Jan 2, 2012 12:57PM sweetbean wrote:

Hmmm...I spend a lot of time on this forum and I don't see that any one poster has a tremendous amount of sway over the others.  And honestly, I don't think the alt women are taking more of a risk than the woman who says, "Well, now I have finished treatment, so I'm not changing my diet one iota.  It's too much to ask."  Personally, I think that is a risky decision, but there are TONS of women on the conventional threads who are adamant about not giving up alcohol or sugar or whatever.   I just want the alt women to have the facts when they are choosing their alt treatments, so that they can plan accordingly.

It's not for me to judge either side, though. I just try to make the best decisions I can with the information I have at the time.  (Yep, just quoted Buffy.  Always relevant!)  At the end of the day, we all want to die old ladies in our beds of something else.  It's all one giant crapshoot and I think everyone is trying to do the best that they can. 

Dx 11/18/2010, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 2/15 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH)
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Jan 2, 2012 01:09PM Racy wrote:

sweetbean, thanks for the interesting post. My onc, who is very experienced and is involved in lots of research, told me he doesn't believe the immune system is a factor in BC.

Like a lot of ladies here, I was very healthy before BC and rarely had so much as a cold. I have not had any infections during chemo or since (apart from a breast infection) so I assume that my immune system is working fine.

Dx 2010, ILC, 2cm, Stage IIA, Grade 3, 0/22 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 2, 2012 01:41PM Patriotic wrote:

Good post. I totally agree. My BC was only detected by me due to my body's immune response once it hit the Sentinel Node (large, painful swelling). It was missed on a Mammogram due to breast density, sadly.

I am almost completely of the opinion that most of BC is due to purely genetic factors. After all, there are hoards of women on these boards with mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers who also have BC but do not test positive for BRCA. I believe there are genes that have not yet been identified for BC and other cancers, too. I think we and the entire cancer treatment "industry" need to just stop the blame game that currently exists. It's just wrong. The docs can talk "risk factors" all they want. At the end of the day, there are still no KNOWN causes and sadly, no known cures.

Get busy living or get busy dying~Shawshank Redemption Dx 3/23/2011, IDC, 3cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 3, 3/11 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+
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Jan 2, 2012 01:42PM crazy4carrots wrote:

According to several cancer researchers that I know, they actually do regard some cancers as immune system diseases, just as they also regard autoimmune disorders (diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and many others) as immune system diseases.  However, when we talk about a strong immune system, we laypeople look at it very superficially.  Our B cells and T cells generally do an adequate job of getting rid of bacteria and viruses which attack from the outside.  The steps we take (exercise, good nutrition, supplements) are all involved in protecting us against infectious illnesses such as the common cold.  Vaccines against once common and deadly viruses such as polio, along with today's flu shot, immunize us against those illnesses.  But cancers do not attack from the outside.  It takes many years for those exposed to pesticides (lymphoma) asbestos (mesothelioma) or tobacco (lung cancer) for these cancers to develop.

It's good to take steps to ensure one's immune system is protective of outside influences.  But don't for a minute think that a supposedly healthy immune system (as evidenced by no colds or serious infections) will prevent the development (or recurrence) of cancer.  The immune system is much, much more complicated.

The demagogue preaches doctrine he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots. Dx 1/10/2008, ILC, 1cm, Stage I, Grade 3, 0/4 nodes, ER+/PR-, HER2-
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Jan 2, 2012 01:47PM sweetbean wrote:

I don't know, Patriotic.  I am one of those women with completely insignificant family history.  I have a tiny bit of breast cancer, but it's all really distant - no aunts, cousins, siblings, or parents with the disease.  I'm of the opinion that there are a lot of environmental factors at work here as well.  But you are right - far too few answers!

Dx 11/18/2010, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 2/15 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH)
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Jan 2, 2012 06:05PM MariannaLaFrance wrote:

Add me to the list with absolutely no family members with breast cancer.  None in my close family or my distant relatives.  

That's interesting about the immune system and no correlation to BC.  I have another theory about my particular case, but it's based on birth control pills I took for over 10 years that were high in estrogen.  

I had a few strange immune system problems crop up around the time of my diagnosis, but they had been brewing for a few years, and I suspect they came up because of a traumatic experience in my life.  (now I am gluten intolerant)

Well, I guess it's just sensible to keep the immune system bolstered to help protect us from other types of illnesses or immune-related cancers.

I sure wish I had the silver bullet. 

Dx 1/26/2010, DCIS, <1cm, Stage 0, Grade 1, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 2, 2012 06:23PM sweetbean wrote:

Oh absolutely.  You definitely want to bolster the immune system, without a doubt.  But bolstering your immune system can't be a person's mainstay of treatment for breast cancer- it has to include some sort of natural PARP inhibitor or antiangiogensis trigger or anti-inflammation method.  Hopefully, all three.  Therapies that I have found to be credible:  mistletoe, AvemarUltra, supplements (you can get a great list from Dr. Block), qi gong, Chinese herbs (Dr. George Wong in NYC is an expert and has devoted his entire life to BC and herbs), baby aspirin, meditation, vegan diet, exercise, low dose neltrexone, and homeopathy.  

Lots of people like the Gerson diet, but I think it is too difficult to be successful.  I couldn't find any success stories that were not sponsored by the Gerson Institute.   I can't imagine trying to give yourself a coffee enema four times a day.  It assumes that you don't work.  Just think about it, "Folks, I'll be back in 20 minutes," and then going to the office lavatory and giving yourself an enema?  Ummm...no.  Not for regular folks with jobs.  Anyway, I think the difficulty is part of the reason for the high failure rate - people do great at the Institute, but very poorly at home.  Quel suprise.  

Dx 11/18/2010, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 2/15 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH)
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Jan 3, 2012 02:12AM Thatgirl wrote:

Wouldn't helping your immune system help if the cancer tried to spread to other parts of your body?

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Jan 3, 2012 05:34AM rosemary-b wrote:

From what I understand breast cancer cells are not seen as outside invaders but as our own cells(which they are) and our immune system leaves them alone. Having said that, boosting the immune system is a good thing. We should all eat well exercise and do whatever else we choose to keep our immune system running well.

Dx 2/25/2007, IDC, Stage I, 0/2 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+
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Jan 3, 2012 06:04AM sweetbean wrote:

Rosemary-b is right on.  Breast cancer cells are able to hide from our immune system - I read that they produce an enzyme that makes the immune system think that they are normal, healthy cells.  That's why therapies that break down the cancer cell are effective - first, they induce apoptosis and second, once the mechanisms are destroyed, the immune system can recognize the cell and get rid of them.  

Dx 11/18/2010, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 2/15 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH)
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Jan 3, 2012 08:02AM Heidihill wrote:

Scientists ate still trying to sort out the immune system. But there is increasing evidence that chronic inflammation and infections drive tumorigenesis, including breast cancer. Inflammation is an immune system response. Vaccines being developed now try to help the immune system launch an attack on cancer cells, including breast cancer cells. Many herbal treatments are anti- inflammatory. Exercise is ant- inflammatory. One can seem healthy, never catching colds, but have an undiagnosed inflammation. One's diet can be inflammatory. With skin cancer, sunburn is the inflammatory trigger.

Dx 8/2007, IDC, Left, 2cm, Stage IV, metastasized to bone, Grade 2, 2/19 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2- (FISH) Hormonal Therapy 3/25/2015 Tamoxifen pills (Nolvadex, Apo-Tamox, Tamofen, Tamone)
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Jan 3, 2012 08:15AM sweetbean wrote:

This is an excellent point, Heidihill.  Dairy causes inflammation, as does sugar.  Dr. Block (of whom I'm a big fan) is very big on reducing inflammation through supplements, diet, and exercise.  Curcumin, fish oil, and baby aspirin are excellent anti-inflammatory agents.

Dx 11/18/2010, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 2/15 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH)
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Jan 3, 2012 05:42PM peggy_j wrote:

sweetbean wrote:

Breast cancer cells are able to hide from our immune system - I read that they produce an enzyme that makes the immune system think that they are normal, healthy cells.

wow, interesting. I thought that cancer in general was caused when the immune system failed to kill off the first tiny mutations. I'm burned out on research, but can you recommend a resource (book, website) where I can read more on this? As an aside, my DH likes to point out that super-boosting the immune system can create problems too (all those auto-immune diseases, like arthritis, Lupus, etc). Thanks again for sharing this.

Dx 2/2011, IDC, <1cm, Stage IA, Grade 1, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 3, 2012 05:49PM B123 wrote:

Can you tell me what CAM therapies and Neulasta both are?  Thanks for the topic, very interesting!

Dx 8/6/2011, 2cm, Stage IB, Grade 2, 2/17 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 3, 2012 06:09PM itsmytime2 wrote:

Hi Sweetbean

I am actually a fan of Avemar.  My mother-n-law introduced it do me when I was diagnosed.  Glad to see someone else here is familiar with it.  

Dx 3/10/2010, DCIS, 5cm, Stage IV, Grade 3, mets, ER+/PR-, HER2+ Dx 3/10/2010, DCIS, 5cm, Stage IV, Grade 3, mets, ER+/PR-, HER2+
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Jan 3, 2012 08:17PM sweetbean wrote:

B123, CAM stands for "complementary and alternative medicine."  Any of the therapies I listed above would qualify as CAM, as would acupuncture, Reiki, reflexology, etc.  I did acupuncture throughout chemo and I believe it helped prevent nausea and neuropathy.  Neulasta is the shot they give you the day after chemo to boost your white blood cell counts.  I listed it even though it is not a CAM therapy because I know it helped keep me healthy.  That being said, I have a friend who went through chemo at the same time and ended up in the hospital twice with fevers. She also got Neulasta, so I felt that the CAM therapies helped give me an edge.  Even if the CAM therapies only give me an extra percentage or so, I'll take it!  I'm Stage III - I'll take every percentage point that I can get.

Peggyj, the book I consistently recommend is "Life Over Cancer."  Dr. Block's integrative approach to cancer is excellent and the book is crammed with info. I learn something new every time I pick it up.  Totally worth it.

Yes, Avemar is great.  It is a natural PARP inhibitor, plus it works synergistically with Tamoxifen, making it more effective. 

Dx 11/18/2010, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 2/15 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH)
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Jan 3, 2012 08:29PM sweetbean wrote:

Peggyj, I don't think you are wrong about the immune system taking out rogue cells.  I think our immune system does do that, generally.  However, once there are enough breast cancer cells to form a tumor, then we can safely assume that they have figured out a way to avoid the immune system and its T-cells.  The trick is getting the immune system to recognize the cancer cells.

For instance, cancer cells are inherently damaged with broken spaces and links all over the place. (Sorry for this incredibly un-scientific description.)  So they produce a protein called PARP to fill in the broken spaces and allow them to reproduce.  Without this protein, they would suffer apoptosis and die.  Right now, PARP inhibitors are all the rage in clinical trials - they inhibit the production of the PARP protein and...yahoo!..apoptosis.  AvemarUltra is a fermented wheatgerm extract that is a natural PARP inhibitor and has been documented as effective against many types of cancer.

Antiangiogenesis is another hot topic of study. Avastin is an antiangiogenetic drug - angiogenesis si the growth of blood vessels, which tumors need for growth.  Antiangiogenetic drugs prevent those blood vessels from forming, which results in tumor death.  There are many foods that promote antiangiogenesis - go on youtube and search "Can We Eat to Starve Cancer" for a fascinating 20 minute video on the subject.  

Dx 11/18/2010, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 2/15 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH)
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Jan 3, 2012 09:04PM steelrose wrote:

Interesting video... thank you, Sweetbean. Nice to see licorice on the antiangiogenesis list! Sad about Avastin no longer being approved... it was one of the drugs that got me to NED. 

I'm following this thread with interest...

Rose.

Dx 1/22/2010, IDC, Stage IV, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 3, 2012 09:58PM - edited Jan 3, 2012 09:59PM by Miles2Go

Sweetbean, thank you for your post!

Everyone who responded, thank you for your information.

I will check out the book and youtube video ~ and research AvemarUltra.

Thank you!  CMG

~promises to keep, and miles to go... Dx 9/29/2011, ILC, <1cm, Stage IIA, Grade 1, 1/2 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 4, 2012 03:46AM Heidihill wrote:

Thanks for the video link, sweetbean. Couldn't see the charts too well on my phone. Will look at it in a bigger format later. The food listings are somewhere between minutes 12 -13.
Here's a link to info on avemar
www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb...
Looks VERY promising!
As for autoimmune risks, I have a history of autoimmune disease so I préfèr mot to take too many suppléments unless needed. Avemar looks, however, to address auto-immune disease as well. Also interesting that it prevents glycolysis, essentially starving cancer (other than through antiangiogenesis).

Dx 8/2007, IDC, Left, 2cm, Stage IV, metastasized to bone, Grade 2, 2/19 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2- (FISH) Hormonal Therapy 3/25/2015 Tamoxifen pills (Nolvadex, Apo-Tamox, Tamofen, Tamone)
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Jan 4, 2012 07:02AM peggy_j wrote:

sweetbean, thanks for recommending the book. I'll check it out. And thanks for sharing the other info.
Dx 2/2011, IDC, <1cm, Stage IA, Grade 1, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 4, 2012 12:11PM thenewme wrote:

Hi Peggy_j, BCO has lots of easy-to-understand info on the immune system:

http://www.breastcancer.org/search.jsp?terms=immune+system 

Dx 11/2008, IDC, 5cm, Stage IIB, Grade 3, 0/9 nodes, ER-/PR-, HER2-
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Jan 4, 2012 08:36PM suzieq60 wrote:

Re bc cells - I asked my onc why people end up with mets years after the initial treatment. He said bc cells can be indolent and lie dormant for many years. So you could have a really healthy immune system and whammo a stray bc cell decides to wake up.

2nd diagnosis October 2010 - IDC 5.8mm node negative - missed on mammogram in October 2009 Dx 10/13/2009, ILC, 1cm, Stage I, Grade 3, 0/5 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+
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Jan 7, 2012 08:32AM macygrace wrote:

I take Ave Ultra and my onc likes it to because it's a PARP inhibitor. I did a little experiment with the stuff. When my bone pain acted up, I took a double dose of it for 3 days straight and it seemed to help. I always thought the stuff kind of tasted like beer with yeast in it. 

Then I ran across this doctor who has been studying how yeast kills cancer . His studies have been going on for years. Too many years in my opinoin. So, this really is VERY interesting to me because Ave Ultra does contain yeast. I tend to wonder if it's the yeast in the product that is having the effect.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcWyTshVdNg

ER+/PR+ HER- Stage IV Met to hips, spine, sternum, sacral, Diagnosed 12/30/10
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Jan 7, 2012 01:50PM B123 wrote:

Thank you Sweetbean for that!! 

I found a new Onc, thank god, and she told me not to go with the Lupron shots because I am 41 and I would have to keep up with it for the next 10 yrs, harsh on the body and immune system.  She thinks that since Tamox didnt go well that I should try one of the following, evista or another med (forgot the name), less SE and easier on the system.  My immune system is shot from all of this, my hair is litteraly falling out! Im getting very worried.  She is running a big blood work up to see what defincies Im missing and fix them, no one has ever offered to do that for me since this all began...  I began drinking Kefir with some honey, it has great benefits for your system.  Hope it works!  Thank you for all the information as well, this helps a great deal, what is Ave Ultra? Is that another inhib??  Thanks!!!

Dx 8/6/2011, 2cm, Stage IB, Grade 2, 2/17 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 7, 2012 08:13PM sweetbean wrote:

AveUltra is fermented wheat germ extract - it's been used on several different types of cancers with a lot of success.  It is a PARP inhibitor, it also works synergistically with Tamox or other hormone therapies.  It is expensive, but I think it is worth it.  Out of all of the alt treatments I have looked at, I think it is one of the ones with the most promise.

Dx 11/18/2010, ILC, 5cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 2/15 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (FISH)

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