Cancer or not? The importance of labels, treatment, and prevention.

If you are interested in wholistic wellness, you are probably already alert to the dangers of the pressure to over-diagnose and over-treat. These tendencies seem to be driven by fear and by profit: by fear of under treating by both patients and doctors, and by the motive to sell more drugs by the pharmaceutical industry. I have also observed how over-pathologizing one condition can lead to further incidents of over-testing and over-treating.

Here’s my story: Following an annual mammogram where calcifications were detected, I was diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) and advised to have a lumpectomy (probably unnecessary), radiation (certainly unnecessary) and take Tamoxifen (relatively benign.)  All of this is due to the highly conservative and overcautious approach of the medical establishment. I was lucky in that my surgeon’s ambivalence about radiation caused a delay while she consulted on my case, and I ran out of time to do radiation. Otherwise I would likely have been talked into something that while life saving for some was certainly unnecessary at best in my case. Confirming this was the reaction of the radiation doctor when I turned down the treatment. “OK, fine, just make sure you continue to get mammograms.”

Many recent articles have questioned the classification of DCIS as cancer at all since it is not invasive and more accurately described as a risk factor. (See this article from the series  “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” Breast Cancer – When It’s Not Cancer at All.  Or from the New York Times, an examination of the whole breast cancer culture: Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer)  To surgically remove DCIS is somewhat like doing surgery on a patient with high cholesterol. To irradiate after DCIS seems to me like burning down your lawn to kill the dandelions.

Now that I have a cancer diagnosis, I run into other issues. I was conscientious and had my first colonoscopy at 50. Everything was normal and I have no family history of colon cancer. Yet my record contains a recommendation to return in 5 years instead of the normal ten. Why? Because I had “cancer.”

I am also concerned about the treatment of osteopenia and osteoporosis, but that is another article. I willl just say that my mother was on bisphosphonates. (Fosomax) She experienced jaw and tooth problems as a side effect, and taking the drug did not prevent her from having several fractures.

I also have to insert a cheer here for the Breast Cancer Fund, which concentrates on identifying and reducing the environmental triggers for breast cancer.  Also here’s a cheer for the fantastic benefits of exercise and good food in promoting well-being and preventing cancer and many other health concerns. And I highly recommend the book “Anticancer: A New Way of Life” by David Servan-Schreiver.

Finally, while I am not in a position to diagnose or recommend treatments, I can say this: ask lots of questions and compare all of your options before undergoing treatment.breast-cancer-fund