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Can Your Lumpectomy Spread Breast Cancer?

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“Studies have shown a spike in breast cancer metastases 12 to 18 months after a lumpectomy or mastectomy.”

Cancer Coach- My mother had DCIS in 2012 and had a lumpectomy along with radiation for 6 weeks. Her mammograms have been clear, but she was just diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer that was found after a lymph node biopsy. The lymph node biopsied was above her collarbone and other lymph nodes around that area are enlarged on the scans. They did not find evidence that it had spread anywhere else after performing scans on head, chest and abdomen. Her bone scan was also negative.

We were all in disbelief… She is ERneg/PRneg/HER2Postive and is scheduled to start chemo on 12/23. I have searched all over the internet (although the doctors tell us not to), hoping to find someone with a similar diagnosis. We were surprised when a mammogram this week also shows that she is free from cancer in both breasts. I’m assuming that a cancer cell got into her blood stream during the lumpectomy and her doctor agreed that this is probably what happened…

I am so worried about her receiving chemo and am pretty convinced that nutrition could do wonders, but the oncologist told me that no food is going to kill the cancer. At this point, I am out of my mind with worry, and am searching for everything and anything that can help her… I am trying to get her to avoid ALL processed foods and sugar and to eat a plant-based diet, but it is a work in progress. I see tons of info online but worry if anything I’m getting her to eat may affect her chemo treatment? Example, turmeric… and any other foods that are recommended to heal cancer. Any info you can provide is greatly appreciated. Mom’s Caregiver

Dear MC- I am sorry to learn of your mother’s metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. According to the studies discussed below it may be inflammation from her lumpectomy that caused breast cancer to grow.  I will try to enumerate what I see as possible integrative/complementary therapy issues for you and your mom to address. Please reply with any and all questions you may have.
  1. Yes, nutrition can do wonders as you say. Nutrition is as much about enhancing your mom’s immune system and reducing inflammation caused by her chemo  as it is about killing the cancer. First and foremost, try to ease your mom into different nutrition habits. You are attempting a lifestyle change, not a diet.


I don’t follow any one specific diet as a cancer survivor. I follow basic rules such as

  • as little processed sugar as possible
  • fruits and veggies throughout the day
  • consume as little alcohol as possible
  • frequent, moderate exercise (this may not seem like a nutrition change but a walk around the block daily will build appetite, help your mom sleep, etc.

For the basic direction for diet please watch Dr. Bill Li’s Ted Talk- 18 mins. 


2. Bone Heath-  the studies found that early bone therapy (bisphosphonates) BEFORE cancer spread to the bones helped significantly.


Bisphosphonates may prevent bone metastasizes in Breast Cancer, study finds


3. Several nutritional supplements are anti-inflammatory- as you say curcumin is beneficial and can integrative with many different chemotherapies. Do you know what chemotherapies your mom will undergo?

A number of chemotherapy regimens are cardiotoxic aka they can damage the patient’s heart.
  • CoQ10 has been documented to reduce or prevent the cardiotoxicity
  • Moderate exercise before, during and after chemo can help maintain heart-health

The key is to research what chemotherapies and what supplements work together and which don’t. I can do the research but you must tell me what chemotherapies your mom’s oncologist has recommended in anticipation. I will provide you with the studies, if any, any you make the decisions.
Many antioxidant supplements both enhance the efficacy of chemo while they reduce the toxicity.
I personally believe that this form of integrative therapy is the key to managing incurable cancer. I live an integrative lifestyle and I have survived my incurable cancer, multiple myeloma, since 1994. I will provide you with the studies and you and your mom decide.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Hang in there,

David Emerson

  • Cancer Survivor
  • Cancer Coach
  • Director PeopleBeatingCancer

Recommended Reading:

New Insight Into Breast Cancer’s Spread After Surgery Suggests Way To Thwart It

“For years, some women who had been told that their breast cancer was relatively harmless have been unhappily surprised by a recurrence just a year or two after surgery.

Now, new research from MIT and the Whitehead Institute finds that their surgery may have had something to do with the spread — but it’s not their doctors’ fault.

The body’s own mechanism for healing seems to have unleashed cancerous cells that had already traveled outside the breast, according to the study, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine.

“The post-surgical wound-healing response somehow releases already disseminated cells, cells that have already spread to distant sites in the body, releasing them from the constraints that have previously prevented them from growing actively,” says professor Robert Weinberg, the new study’s senior author.

To repair a wound, the immune system sends cells around the body, and promotes cell and blood vessel growth — all of which can also fuel cancer. Without the immune system tamping down such activities, cancer cells can seed new tumors that are far more dangerous than the initial growth in the breast, Weinberg says.

In breast cancer, the vast majority of patients are not harmed by their initial tumor, but by its spread into other parts of the body, such as the brain. Studies have shown a spike in breast cancer metastases 12 to 18 months after a lumpectomy or mastectomy.

The new research contradicts the idea that surgeons might be releasing cancerous cells that then travel to other parts of the body. Some surgeries are for relatively harmless noninvasive tumors, Weinberg says, and there is so much tissue removed surrounding the tumor that it isn’t really feasible for the operation to be spreading cancerous cells.

“The other, alternative mechanism involves an effect on somehow stimulating already seeded metastases at distant sites that were hitherto silent and not obvious, and somehow liberating them from whatever has been preventing them from proliferating,” Weinberg says. This is what he thinks is going on in breast cancers that recur within a year or two of surgery.

The good news is that Weinberg’s team found a way to counter this effect in mice — and research in people has already pointed in the same direction.

In the new study, they found that mice given a strong anti-inflammatory drug around the time of surgery did not get surgery-related metastases.

“An anti-inflammatory actually does prevent the wound healing from suppressing the immune system,” Weinberg says…

Although there are no definitive studies yet, early research in people is promising. Giving non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, at the time of surgery is associated with a decline in metastases.

In one 2012 study, for instance, breast cancer patients given the anti-inflammatory drug ketorolac during surgery were five times less likely to have their cancer spread than people who didn’t get the painkiller, says Dr. Michael Retsky, an oncology researcher at The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and University College London, who led that research.

Many surgeons are hesitant to give NSAIDs during surgery, fearing they will lead to extra bleeding, but Retsky says it’s likely that any additional bleeding will be manageable…

Dr. Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, says his research with aspirin suggests that different NSAIDs may affect the body differently. In people, aspirin seems to have stronger anti-cancer properties than other NSAIDS, but the opposite is true in animals, he says…”

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