Healthy Beginnings

Integrative approaches to breast cancer abound

Mistletoe grows on a tree in the United Kingdom.
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Breast cancers develop when cells in the mammary tissue begin to change and spread out of control. They can be made up of glands for milk production, called lobules, or in the ducts, which connect the lobules to the nipple.

In 2017, an estimated 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed among women and 2,470 cases diagnosed in men, according to the American Cancer Society. Additionally, 63,410 cases of “in situ breast carcinoma” will be diagnosed among women, and approximately 40,000 to 45,000 patients are expected to die in 2018.

Integrative oncological approaches to breast cancer include both diagnostic and treatment protocols. With the confirmed diagnosis of breast cancer comes a sample of tissue, which is referred to as the pathologic specimen.

This tissue holds more than the diagnosis. It potentially contains genomic information that may influence the course of care. Markers on the breast sample may indicate whether or not estrogen blockers or aromatase inhibitors may be of benefit, as well as specialized monoclonal antibodies which may alter the behavior of the cancer cells.

Advanced genomic testing may allow for more individualized recommendations for chemotherapy, targeted therapy or even immunotherapy.

Many early stage cancers of the breast may not even require chemotherapy and could be controlled with just oral medications. A recent federally funded study — the Trial Assigning Individualized Options for Treatment (TAILORx) — suggested this might be the case for some patients.

When approaching cancer in general, it is appropriate to gather as much knowledge about the disease as possible and all the treatment options.

Several modalities exist beyond the traditional surgery, hormone modulation, monoclonal antibodies, chemotherapy and radiation, including the off-label use of medications.

One such medication is the anti-malarial drug Artesunate, according to a 2017 article in the journal “Metastatic Breast Cancer,” which can be administered both orally and intravenously. Currently, clinical trials are ongoing and recent data suggests it is safe and shows efficacy in both in vitro and in vivo studies.

Another unique substance called Mistletoe (viscum album) is a very important herbal drug and is potentially effective against cancer, according to a 2014 article in BioMed Research International. Regularly used in Europe, this medicine is being actively researched by Johns Hopkins Medical School for the treatment of a variety of cancers.

Sean Devlin, D.O., H.M.D. is a board-certified family physician practicing Integrative Medicine & Integrative Oncology at Gerber Medical Clinic in Reno. Go to to learn more.