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The Definition of “Cancer” May Be Narrowed to Prevent Overtreatment of Harmless Tumors

Redefining Cancer

Story at-a-glance -

  • The National Cancer Institute has suggested narrowing the definition of “cancer,” as mounting research shows that many harmless tumors are being overtreated, thereby causing more harm than good
  • About one-third of women currently diagnosed with breast cancer have harmless tumors that pose no threat to their life
  • Only ONE out of 2,000 women screened regularly for 10 years will benefit from screening due to early detection of breast cancer while 10 healthy women will be misdiagnosed and treated unnecessarily
  • Research into the health of our ancient ancestors suggests that cancer is a manmade disease—a byproduct of a variety of harmful environmental and lifestyle factors
  • Preventing breast cancer is far more important and powerful than simply trying to detect it after it has already formed. My top tips on how to help prevent breast cancer are included

By Dr. Mercola

Nearly two million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year, and one in three will face a cancer diagnosis at some time in their lives. Yet despite massive technological advances over the past half-century, Western medicine is still at a loss for how to rein in its prevalence.

At this point, it's becoming increasingly clear that many of the conventional strategies, from diagnosis to treatment, are riddled with flawed assumptions and approaches that, in many cases, do more harm than good.

What's worse, virtually none of the conventional strategies actually address the root of the problem.

Cancer to Be Redefined?

NPR recently interviewed Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, about the National Cancer Institute's suggestion to change the definition of "cancer." The reason for this is because mounting research shows that many harmless tumors are being overtreated, thereby causing far more harm than good.

As reported by NPR:1

"[S]ometimes no treatment is needed at all, and that's why the National Cancer Institute recently recommended that the definition of cancer be changed... Their new definition of cancer would be narrower than current standards.

The Institute hopes that keeping the word cancer out of some diagnoses would minimize unnecessary treatments and help calm patient anxiety.

'...Essentially, what has happened is our technologies have gotten so good that we can find some early cancers, or things that look like cancer, that we now know, if left alone, would never grow, spread and harm the patient.

So we're actually treating some lesions that look like cancer unnecessarily,' [Dr. Brawley says.] 'What we're trying to do is spare some people the harms associated with unnecessary treatment...'"

According to Dr. Brawley, thoughts on cancer have started to change as a result of new information. For example, about 50-60 percent of prostate cancer cases would likely be better off being watched instead of treated. Ditto for thyroid and lung cancer, where 20-30 percent and about 10 percent respectively, should be watched rather than treated.

In the case of breast cancer, about one-third of women currently diagnosed with breast cancer have harmless tumors that pose no threat to their life. As described by New York Times writer Peggy Orenstein:2

"[C]ancer in your breast doesn't kill you; the disease becomes deadly when it metastasizes, spreading to other organs or the bones. Early detection is based on the theory, dating back to the late 19th century,

That the disease progresses consistently, beginning with a single rogue cell, growing sequentially and at some invariable point making a lethal leap. Curing it, then, was assumed to be a matter of finding and cutting out a tumor before that metastasis happens.

The thing is, there was no evidence that the size of a tumor necessarily predicted whether it had spread. According to Robert Aronowitz, a professor of history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of 'Unnatural History: Breast Cancer and American Society,' Physicians endorsed the idea anyway, partly out of wishful thinking, desperate to "do something" to stop a scourge against which they felt helpless."

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Although More Cancers Are Detected, Mortality Rates Remain Stable

Mammography was heralded as the answer, as it could detect tumors at a much earlier stage, and as annual mammograms became the norm in the US, more cancers were indeed detected—yet the rates of women dying from the disease remained virtually unchanged.

As Orenstein points out, "that should have been a sign that some aspect of the early-detection theory was amiss." But no. Instead, flawed assumptions were tacked onto flawed theories, and the general thinking remained that detecting cancer earlier still was the key to saving lives.

Hence, much of the focus on cancer "prevention" has been diverted into early detection, more or less ignoring the most obvious question, which is: How do we prevent the formation of lethal tumors in the first place?

For all its flaws, cancer research has determined that the disease is more complex than previously thought. For example, it does not necessarily progress in a consistently uniform manner. They've also discovered that there are a number of genetically distinct types of breast cancer—each of which may have different triggers and respond differently to current treatments. These include but are not limited to:

  • Estrogen-dependent luminal A and luminal B
  • HER2-positive, which over-produces a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2
  • Basal-like or "triple negative," which is the most aggressive form of breast cancer. Its growth is unrelated to the most common biomarkers for breast cancer (estrogen, progesterone and HER2); hence the "triple negative" designation

Analysis of 30 Years of Breast Screening Shows Mammograms Do More Harm than Good

Last year, the New England Journal of Medicine3 published an analysis of the effects of breast cancer screening in the US over the past 30 years, which found that 1.3 million women were misdiagnosed and mistreated as a result of regular mammogram screenings over that timeframe. Moreover, while the detection of early-stage breast cancers doubled since the advent of mammography, late-stage cancer incidence decreased by just eight percent in the same time frame, suggesting that catching and treating tumors early does not automatically eliminate more serious cases of cancer.

According to the authors of the study:

"...the imbalance suggests that there is substantial overdiagnosis, accounting for nearly a third of all newly diagnosed breast cancers, and that screening is having, at best, only a small effect on the rate of death from breast cancer."

As you can see, there's a crucial difference between a non-malignant lesion/tumor and invasive cancer. Yet at present, little distinction is made between the two. Either is typically delivered and received as a death sentence. It is this that the National Cancer Institute's proposed redesignation of "cancer" is aiming to address. I for one believe it can be quite helpful. At present, an estimated 50,000 American women4 are transformed from healthy women with non-lethal lesions into pink-ribboned "cancer survivors"—thinking they survived a brush with death, when in fact they may have just went through hell for no reason...

Mammography May Harm 10 Times More Women Than It Helps

According to recent findings by the Nordic Cochrane Center,5 only ONE out of 2,000 women screened regularly for 10 years will actually benefit from screening due to early detection of breast cancer. Meanwhile, 10 healthy women (out of those 2,000 screened for a decade) will be misdiagnosed, turned into cancer patients, and will be treated unnecessarily.

These women will have either a part of their breast or the whole breast removed, and will typically receive radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. This treatment (for a cancer that was non-existent) subsequently increases their risk of dying from complications from the therapy and/or from other diseases associated with radiation and chemo, such as heart disease and cancer. In all, routine mammography led to 30 percent over-diagnosis and overtreatment, which equates to an absolute risk increase of 0.5 percent. So, to recap, in order for mammographic breast screening to save ONE woman's life:

  • 2,000 women must be screened for 10 years
  • 200 women will get false positives, and
  • 10 will receive surgery and/or chemotherapy even though they do not actually have cancer

What these statistics overwhelmingly show us is that just because you were treated for cancer does not mean you're a cancer survivor. If you really didn't have cancer to begin with, then you're really just a "cancer treatment survivor." Yet all women treated for cancer who survive become part of the official "cancer survivor" statistic that is then used to justify the effectiveness of the current system of diagnosis and treatment!

More carefully distinguishing between harmless lumps and malignant tumors would go a long way toward preventing needless emotional and physical trauma associated with over-diagnosis and overtreatment. It would probably also aid in determining the actual effectiveness of various treatments.

Women Need to Become Better Informed

The conundrum now lies in convincing a petrified public, thoroughly saturated with "awareness" of the lethal consequences of cancer, that it may be in your best interest to forsake some of the diagnostic tests and treatments. This is likely to be a challenge, because few dare to take a less aggressive route when their life might be at stake. As stated by Orenstein:

"The fear of cancer is legitimate: how we manage that fear, I realized — our responses to it, our emotions around it — can be manipulated, packaged, marketed and sold, sometimes by the very forces that claim to support us. That can color everything from our perceptions of screening to our understanding of personal risk to our choices in treatment."

Again, to give you some more data to chew on, Orenstein discusses the results of other studies as follows:6

"As improbable as it sounds, studies have suggested that about a quarter of screening-detected cancers might have gone away on their own. For an individual woman in her 50s, then, annual mammograms may catch breast cancer, but they reduce the risk of dying of the disease over the next 10 years by only 0.07 percentage points — from 0.53 percent to 0.46 percent. Reductions for women in their 40s are even smaller, from 0.35 percent to 0.3 percent." [Emphasis mine]

In order to not only make better informed decisions, but also make decisions that are less colored by fear, women need to be provided with all of their screening options, including their strengths and weaknesses; benefits and risks. Today, women are rarely informed about the fact that ionizing radiation is a major contributor to cancer for example, i.e. that routine testing itself can increase their risk of lethal breast cancer.

This is an extremely important point considering the introduction of 3D mammograms, which exponentially increase your exposure to harmful radiation that might lead to cancer later on. To learn more about this, please see my previous article, "New 3D Mammography Significantly Increases Radiation Exposure, and Your Risk of Radiation-Induced Cancer."

Results from Other Studies Evaluating Effectiveness of Mammography

  1. Archives of Internal Medicine7 published a meta-analysis of 117 randomized, controlled mammogram trials. Among its findings: Rates of false-positive results are high (20% to 56% after 10 mammograms), and "although few women 50 years of age or older have risks from mammography that outweigh the benefits, the evidence suggests that more women 40 to 49 years of age have such risks."
  2. A study published in the British Medical Journal8 in December 2011, confirmed that breast cancer screening may cause women harm, especially during the early years after they start screening. This harm is largely due to surgeries, such as lumpectomies and mastectomies, and other (often unnecessary) interventions. The study highlights losses in quality of life from false positive results and unnecessary treatment.
  3. In September 2010, theNew England Journal of Medicine published the first study9 in years to examine the effectiveness of mammograms. Their findings are a far cry from what most public health officials would have you believe. The bottom line is that mammograms seem to have reduced cancer death rates by only 0.4 deaths per 1,000 women—an amount so small it might as well be zero. Put another way, 2,500 women would have to be screened over 10 years for a single breast cancer death to be avoided.

What Causes of Cancer Are Currently Ignored?

So what are some of the root causes of cancer that the industry is failing to address? Well, for one, I believe it would behoove us if researchers spent less time and money searching for genetic factors and more on evaluating the carcinogenic impact of various lifestyle and environmental factors. Because while some cancers may be highly influenced by inherited genetic defects, the emerging science of epigenetics proves that your genetic code is not nearly as predeterministic as previously thought.

You actually have a tremendous amount of control over how your genetic traits are expressed. Your genes will express or suppress genetic data depending on the environment in which it finds itself, meaning the presence or absence of appropriate nutrients, toxins, and even your thoughts and feelings, which unleash hormones and other chemicals in your body. Dr. Susan Love, a breast cancer surgeon and president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation commented on such research back in 2009, saying:10

"It's exciting. What it means, if all this environmental stuff is right, is that we should be able to reverse cancer without having to kill cells. This could open up a whole new way of thinking about cancer that would be much less assaultive."

Research into the health of our ancient ancestors11 also suggests that cancer is indeed a manmade disease. Increasingly, environmental and lifestyle factors are being pinpointed as the culprits, and it is my personal belief that our cancer problem is the result of too many people being regularly exposed to too many of these toxic factors, which include:

Pesticide and other synthetic chemical exposures A predominance of sugars and grains which causes the body to burn sugar rather than fat as its primary fuel Wireless technologies, dirty electricity, and medical diagnostic radiation exposure
Pharmaceutical drugs Obesity, stress, and poor sleeping habits Lack of sunshine exposure and use of sunscreens


It's highly unlikely that any one of these is solely responsible. Rather, it's probably a combination of several. This means that what needs to be done is a complete overhaul of most industries that provide us with everything from food and clothes to personal care products, furnishings and more. Yes, what I'm suggesting is dramatic, and perhaps that's why no one really wants to take that bull by the horn, but it's necessary if we want to truly address the meteoric rise of not just cancer, but many other modern diseases as well. Virtually every single thing you put into your mouth, on your body, and in your home and business, needs to be evaluated for its toxic potential.

All-Natural Cancer Prevention Strategies

My recommendation to you is to not wait for the system to change, but to take matters into your own hands—now. It's important to realize that cancer screening does NOT in any way equate to cancer prevention, and that while early detection is important, a number of popular screening methods have been shown to cause more harm than good—mammography in particular.

In the largest review of research into lifestyle and breast cancer, the American Institute of Cancer Research estimated that about 40 percent of US breast cancer cases could be prevented if people made wiser lifestyle choices.12, 13 I believe these estimates are far too low, and it is more likely that 75 percent to 90 percent of breast cancers could be avoided by strictly applying the recommendations below.

  1. Improve your insulin receptor sensitivity. The best way to do this is by avoiding sugar and grains and making sure you are exercising, especially with Peak Fitness.
  2. Address your food preparation. Eat at least one-third of your food raw. Avoid frying or charbroiling; boil, poach or steam your foods instead. Consider adding cancer-fighting whole foods, herbs, spices and supplements to your diet, such as broccoli, curcumin and resveratrol. To learn more about how these anti-angiogenetic foods fight cancer, please see our previous article: "Dramatically Effective New Natural Way to Starve Cancer and Obesity."
  3. Avoid carbohydrates and sugar. Reduce or eliminate processed foods, sugar/fructose and grain-based foods from your diet. This applies to whole unprocessed organic grains as well, as they tend to rapidly break down and drive up your insulin level. The evidence is quite clear that if you want to avoid cancer, or you currently have cancer, you absolutely MUST avoid all forms of sugar, especially fructose, which feeds cancer cells and promotes their growth.
  4. Reduce protein and increase fat. Consider reducing your protein levels to one gram per kilogram of lean body weight. It would be unusual for most adults to need more than 100 grams of protein and most likely close to half of that amount. Replace excess protein with high-quality fats, such as organic eggs from pastured hens, high quality meats, avocados, and coconut oil.
  5. Drink a half to whole quart of organic green vegetable juice daily. Please review my juicing instructions for more detailed information.
  6. Avoid GMOs. Avoid genetically engineered foods as they are typically treated with herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate), which are likely to be carcinogenic. A French research team that has extensively studied Roundup concluded it's toxic to human cells, and likely carcinogenic to humans. Choose fresh, organic, preferably locally growth foods.
  7. Avoid unfermented soy products. Unfermented soy is high in plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens, also known as isoflavones. In some studies, soy appears to work in concert with human estrogen to increase breast cell proliferation, which increases the chances for mutations and cancerous cells.
  8. Normalize your omega-3 to omega-6 fats ratio. Normalize your ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats by taking a high-quality krill oil and reducing your intake of processed vegetable oils.
  9. Optimize your gut flora. Optimizing your gut flora will reduce inflammation and strengthen your immune response. Researchers have found a microbe-dependent mechanism through which some cancers mount an inflammatory response that fuels their development and growth. They suggest that inhibiting inflammatory cytokines might slow cancer progression and improve the response to chemotherapy.
  10. Adding naturally fermented food to your daily diet is an easy way to prevent cancer or speed recovery. You can always add a high-quality probiotic supplement as well, but naturally fermented foods are the best.

  11. Exercise regularly. Exercise lowers insulin levels, which creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells. In a three-month study, exercise was found to alter immune cells into a more potent disease-fighting form in cancer survivors who had just completed chemotherapy.
  12. Researchers and cancer organizations increasingly recommend making regular exercise a priority in order to reduce your risk of cancer, and help improve cancer outcomes. Research has also found evidence suggesting exercise can help trigger apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells. Ideally, your exercise program should include balance, strength, flexibility, high intensity interval training (HIIT). For help getting started, refer to my Peak Fitness Program.

  13. Optimize your vitamin D level. There is scientific evidence you can decrease your risk of cancer by more than half simply by optimizing your vitamin D levels with appropriate sun exposure. Your serum level should hold steady at 50-70 ng/ml, but if you are being treated for cancer, it should be closer to 80-90 ng/ml for optimal benefit.
  14. If you take oral vitamin D and have cancer, it would be very prudent to monitor your vitamin D blood levels regularly, as well as supplementing your vitamin K2, as K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity. To learn more, please see my previous article: "What You Need to Know About Vitamin K2, D and Calcium."

  15. Get plenty of natural vitamin A. There is evidence that vitamin A also plays a role in helping prevent breast cancer.14 It's best to obtain it from vitamin A-rich foods, rather than a supplement. Your best sources are organic egg yolks,15 raw butter, raw whole milk, and beef or chicken liver.
  16. Consider curcumin. This is the active ingredient in turmeric and in high concentrations can be very useful adjunct in the treatment of breast cancer. It shows immense therapeutic potential in preventing breast cancer metastasis.16 It's important to know that curcumin is generally not absorbed that well, so I've provided several absorption tips here.
  17. Optimize your sleep. Make sure you are getting enough restorative sleep. Poor sleep can interfere with your melatonin production, which is associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance and weight gain, both of which contribute to cancer's virility.
  18. Limit your exposure to toxins. Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides, herbicides, household chemical cleaners, synthetic air fresheners and toxic cosmetics. Avoid BPA, phthalates and other xenoestrogens. These are estrogen-like compounds that have been linked to increased breast cancer risk.
  19. Limit your exposure to radiation. Limit your exposure and protect yourself from radiation produced by cell phones, towers, base stations, and Wi-Fi stations, as well as minimizing your exposure from radiation-based medical scans, including dental x-rays, CT scans, and mammograms.
  20. Avoid synthetic hormone replacement therapy. Breast cancer is an estrogen-related cancer, and according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer rates for women dropped in tandem with decreased use of hormone replacement therapy. (There are similar risks for younger women who use oral contraceptives. Birth control pills, which are also comprised of synthetic hormones, have been linked to cervical and breast cancers.)
  21. Make sure you're not iodine deficient, as there's compelling evidence linking iodine deficiency with breast cancer. Dr. David Brownstein,17 author of the book Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can't Live Without It, is a proponent of iodine for breast cancer. It actually has potent anticancer properties and has been shown to cause cell death in breast and thyroid cancer cells.
  22. For more information, I recommend reading Dr. Brownstein's book. I have been researching iodine for some time ever since I interviewed Dr. Brownstein as I do believe that the bulk of what he states is spot on. However, I am not convinced that his dosage recommendations are correct. I believe they are too high.

  23. Stress Management. Stress from all causes is a major contributor to disease. Even the CDC states that 85 percent of disease is driven by emotional factors. It is likely that stress and unresolved emotional issues may be more important than the physical ones, so make sure this is addressed. My favorite tool for resolving emotional challenges is Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).

What to Do if You Already Have Cancer

Without a doubt the most powerful essential strategy I know of to treat cancer is to starve the cells by depriving them of their food source. Unlike your body cells, which can burn carbs or fat for fuel, cancer cells have lost that metabolic flexibility. Dr. Otto Warburg was actually given a Nobel Prize over 75 years ago for figuring this out but virtually no oncologist actually uses this information.

You can review my recent interview with Dr. D'Agostino below for more details but integrating a ketogenic diet with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which is deadly to cancer cells by starving them of their fuel source, would be the strategy I would recommend to my family if they were diagnosed with cancer.