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What is Breast Cancer? - by Susun Weed

  • What causes cells to become abnormal and reproduce wildly? Damage to the DNA, the brain of the cell, which causes mutations and activation of oncogenes. Usually one mutation isn’t enough; most cells must undergo several mutations before they become cancerous. (Sometimes the mutations must occur in sequence to create a cancer, sometimes random order will do it.) What causes DNA damage? Radiation, free radicals, genetic defects, electrical fields, chemicals, drugs, viruses, and metabolic stresses.

  • When mutations accumulate and oncogenes turn on, the cell is initiated. It is abnormal, but not cancerous. Initiated cells are diagnosed as atypia, dysplasia, or hyperplasia.

  • Damaged cells alone offer no threat to long life. To become threatening, the abnormal cells must be promoted. Promoters bring the cells nutrients so they can reproduce. (One of the strongest promoters of breast cancer is estrogen.) Although promoted cells can disguise themselves so the immune system won’t recognize them, most of them are seen and eaten, or encapsulated by the body so they do no harm. Promoted cells are called carcinoma in situ.
  • According to Christiane Northrup, M.D., in situ cancer cells are frequently found in the breasts of women who die of causes other than cancer. And according to Susan Love, M.D., breast cancer specialist, in situ cells are reversible without invasive treatments and shouldn’t be thought of as cancers.

  • Promoted breast cells, no matter how many of them there are, are not classified as invasive unless they spread out of the tissues of origin and into the surrounding tissues. This is the growth phase. When promoted cells enter the growth phase, they begin to form a tumor and to recruit blood vessels to help supply their immense need for nutrients. (The tumor may grow so quickly that cells in its center die from lack of nourishment.) The diagnosis now becomes infiltrating or invasive carcinoma.

  • Once a mass of abnormal, quickly-replicating cells has created a network of blood vessels, individual cancer cells can separate from the tumor and travel to other parts of the body. Because the breast is not vital to life, a breast cancer that stays in the breast is not life-threatening. But if breast cancer cells get to the liver, lungs, bone marrow, or the brain and continue to grow, they can hinder the functioning of processes necessary for life. The body attempts to check this spread by locking breast cancer cells in lymph node prisons and by sending immune system cells out to eat traveling cancer cells. If cancer cells are found in the axillary lymph nodes, the diagnosis is aggressive or metastasized carcinoma.

  • Not everyone whose cellular DNA is damaged will get cancer. Why not? All cells have the capacity to repair themselves or to shut down if they are mutated or damaged. Good lifestyle habits and ordinary foods such as lentils also reverse DNA damage.

  • The wear-and-tear of life gives rise to so many mutated, abnormal, initiated cells (even in a healthy person) that the immune system forms a constant stream of specialized cells to seek out and consume them. So long as the immune system is strong, and well supplied with nutrients, initiated and promoted cells can be harmlessly eliminated, checking the possibility of cancer.

  • Building powerful immunity isn’t always enough, though. Cancer cells can trick the immune system into leaving them alone, and they can replicate so rapidly that they overwhelm the immune system with sheer force of numbers. One of the reasons breast cancer is so difficult to treat is that cancer cells are full of life. They no longer have the inner signal that tells them to die after reproducing. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, the woman with breast cancer finds herself with cancer cells that replicate unceasingly. Cancer cells never grow up and become productive members of their community. They simply take up space.

  • Because there are different types of cells in the breasts (e.g., ducts and lobes) and a variety of ways that a cell can be abnormal, there are many kinds of breast cancers and many possible treatments. Of the two dozen kinds of breast cancer known, the majority originate in the duct cells. (See illustration of duct cells, page 106 in Breast Cancer? Breast Health!)

  • Some breast cancers grow slowly, others quickly. Slow growing breast cancers double in size every 42–100 days or more. Quick growing breast cancers can double every 21 days. Pre- and peri-menopausal women tend to have faster growing, more aggressive breast cancers (about 10–15 percent of all breast cancers).

  • Post-menopausal women, who account for 60–80 percent of all breast cancer cases, usually have slow-growing cancers, which rarely metastasize.
  • Microscopic examination of cellular tissue is the only scientifically accepted way to diagnose cancer.
  • The first breast surgery most women will have is a biopsy. When there is a suspicious finding on a mammogram or a palpable lump, there is no way to rule out cancer unless a piece of breast tissue is removed and examined under a microscope by a pathologist. If there is a diagnosis of cancer and further surgery is done, the breast tissues removed are also sent to the pathologist.

  • The pathologist can see cancerous cells if they are present and can determine the type and state of the cancer by a variety of signs. These findings are collected into a pathology report which will, to a great degree, determine the treatment options that you will be offered. Pathology reports are based on opinion as well as fact, so many women have two, three, or even four different pathologists look at their tissue samples and give an opinion.

  • To judge the “stage” of a cancer (see page 137, Breast Cancer? Breast Health!), lymph glands are removed (excised) from the nearby armpit. Lymph gland excision always cuts some of the nerves to the arm. Removal of the lymph glands does nothing to treat or cure breast cancer, and may hinder the body’s ability to deal with cancer. Lymph gland removal can cause numbness as well as pain, impaired circulation, swelling (sometimes severe and long-lasting), and a life-long risk of severe infection. The more lymph nodes removed, the more severe these side effects.

  • Lack of cancer cells in the lymph nodes doesn’t guarantee that the cancer hasn’t metastasized (one-third of all women with negative nodes nonetheless have metastasizing cancer), but a positive finding does indicate that the cancer has metastasized and may be growing elsewhere in the body.

  • Aggressive (metastatic) cancer requires more vigorous treatment than invasive (non-metastatic) cancer. And treatment is more effective if undertaken before the metastasized cells begin to form masses in critical organs. But micro-metastases and small clumps of cells are extremely difficult to find. What to do?

Orthodox treatments include: Surgery to remove the primary tumor. Radiation to eliminate any other cancer cells in the breast tissues. Chemotherapy to kill any other cancer cells in the body. (But those that survive - and some always do - mutate and become invulnerable to further chemotherapy.) And hormones such as tamoxifen to check recurrence and metastatic growth.

Alternative treatments include
: Caustic herbs and pastes to burn away the primary cancer. Nourishing, tonifying, and stimulating treatments for building immune strength. And a variety of anti-cancer compounds used systemically to eliminate cancer cells in the breasts and elsewhere in the body. Exercise and a diet of healthy food, nourishing infusions, healing oils, and phytoestrogen-rich herbs to counter recurrence.

  • Does survival after a diagnosis of breast cancer depend on orthodox medical treatments? Women who refuse such treatments do not die sooner than women who follow orthodoxy, according to an old (1977), but still valid, study by Hardin B. Jones, professor of medical physics. (“A Report on Cancer” is available at the library of the University of California at Berkeley.)

Susun Weed, green witch and wise woman, is an extraordinary teacher with a joyous spirit, a powerful presence, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of herbs and health. She is the voice of the Wise Woman Way, where common weeds, simple ceremony, and compassionate listening support and nourish health/wholeness/holiness. She has opened hearts to the magic and medicine of the green nations for three decades. Ms. Weed's four herbal medicine books focus on women's health topics including: menopause, childbearing, and breast health.


Visit her site  for information on her workshops, apprenticeships, correspondence courses and more or contact her at:

Susun Weed

PO Box 64

Woodstock, NY 12498

Fax:  1-845-246-8081

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Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.




Browse the publishing site - Ash Tree Publishing - to learn more about her alternative health books.


Venture into the NEW Menopause site to learn all about the Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way.

Or Join the Forum! Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Forum - an open space for discussion. Make yourself at home, post a message or start a discussion. This place is for you to share your questions, concerns, and comments with other wise women like you. Take a moment to register and become part of the community. Enjoy!


Susun Weed’s books include:


Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year

Author: Susun S. Weed. Simple, safe remedies for pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and newborns. Includes herbs for fertility and birth control. Foreword by Jeannine Parvati Baker. 196 pages, index, illustrations.

Retails for $11.95 Order at: Ash Tree Publishing

Healing Wise 

Author: Susun S. Weed. Superb herbal in the feminine-intuitive mode. Complete instructions for using common plants for food, beauty, medicine, and longevity. Introduction by Jean Houston. 312 pages, index, illustrations.

Retails for $17.95 Order at: Ash Tree Publishing


New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way

Author: Susun S. Weed. The best book on menopause is now better. Completely revised with 100 new pages. All the remedies women know and trust plus hundreds of new ones. New sections on thyroid health, fibromyalgia, hairy problems, male menopause, and herbs for women taking hormones. Recommended by Susan Love MD and Christiane Northrup MD. Foreword by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. 304 pages, index, illustrations.

Retails for $16.95 Order at: Ash Tree Publishing

For more great info on menopause, visit the site.

Breast Cancer? Breast Health!

Author: Susun S. Weed. Foods, exercises, and attitudes to keep your breasts healthy. Supportive complimentary medicines to ease side-effects of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or tamoxifen. Foreword by Christiane Northrup, M.D. 380 pages, index, illustrations.

Retails for $14.95 Order at: Ash Tree Publishing

For more great info on Breast Health, visit Susun's Breast Health site.

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