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Ask the Herbalist -
Breast Cancer

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From Carlos:
QUESTION: I have several questions that I hope you can answer through email.  I am undergoing treatment for invasive lobular breast cancer, stage 3.  I just finished my last chemo and will start radiation about the 2nd week of April. Since my cancer is estrogen positive, it is strongly recommended that I take estrogen blockers for 5 years starting after I finish radiation. 

I am already suffering from severe vaginal dryness and other problems associated with the chemo. I need to know if phytoestrogens will feed the cancer the same as the hormone estrogen will.  I had already purchased Shatavari in liquid and capsules before I got my diagnosis . The information I read said shatavari would actually fight breast cancer as well as work for vaginal dryness, low libido and many other problems that I have including digestive problems.

Another question I have is about Red Clover.  I read something you wrote for another person dealing with excessively large breast and you suggested Red Clover for swelling and lymphedema.  I don't have lymphedema  but I am afraid I will get it since 16 of my lymph nodes were removed.  Will Red Clover be appropriate for me to prevent lymphedema?

I am 63 years old and other than stress, I thought I had been living a pretty healthy lifestyle. I have been a school bus driver for 30 years until I got my diagnosis and had to retire early.  I am on a very limited/low income but I have been fortunate enough to have good insurance to pay for my cancer treatment.

However, it won't pay a cent on alternative treatment and that's why I am doing conventional medical treatment that I don't like or trust. I am trying to incorporate as much alternative treatment as I can afford and without my Oncologist's approval.  

ANSWER: Traditionally Red Clover is used as an anti-inflammatory, and research has shown that it does inhibit some tumors, so it is sometimes also used to treat breast cancer. Extracts and tinctures always work better and faster. If wishing to use Red Clover, I suggest 25 drops extract or tincture in a cup of Green tea 3xs day. 

I sincerely recommend a diet that includes plenty of garlic, citrus fruits, black currants, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and potatoes, wheat germ, nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, seafood, brazil nuts, lemons, grapefruit, cherries, red pepper and bananas.

I suggest and urge to consider first, eliminating from your diet: Pork, white sugar, salt, red meats, eggs, pasta, sodas, all dairy (except yogurt), caffeine, cigarrettes, alcohol, fried and greasy foods, and all foods containing additives or preservatives.

Enhance your diet with: Oily fish, sardines, mackerel, shrimp, turkey, steamed green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, carrots, corn, apples, yogurt and in particular eat plenty of oats. Snack on black licorice sticks and/or pumpkin seeds.

There has been some success noted with the Native American remedy called Essiac. If unable to purchase it, you may wish to blend in equal parts infusions of Burdock root, Sheep's sorrel and Slippery elm, and to these add a pinch of Chinese rhubarb. Drink 2xs daily and sweeten only with honey.

Add to all your broths, soups and stews: 1 Astragalus root, 2 pieces of Chinese angelica and a small piece of white Chinese ginseng.

To replenish decreased estrogen and progesterone levels I suggest drinking Green tea often and adding 30 drops of extract or tincture of Agnus castus and 15 drops extract or tincture of Peony root, to the tea 2xs day.

QUESTION: Would you please provide clarification on supplementing with Red Clover. I was diagnosed with breast cancer (estrogen/progesterone positive) in February and had a lumpectomy and interoperable radiation. I refused the recommended follow-up therapy of Tamoxifen and/or chemo and take numerous vitamins, supplements, and herbs instead. I read “Herbal Medicine, Healing & Cancer” by Donald Yance. It is mentioned that Red Clover can act as inhibitor of estradiol, alter action of hormone receptor type cancer. I feel this is exactly what I need since estradiol is the “bad” estrogen (for breast cancer). However, I have also read on various websites that those who have breast cancer should not take Red Clover because of its estrogen effects. Could you please provide me with some clarification.

ANSWER: The court is still out on this, because there are several views on this, I am including the best 3 links I know of: http://breast-cancer-research.com/content/6/3/R170

Hope this helps clear your concern.

QUESTION: Can you tell me if paw paw root cell regulator is effective on breast cancer or would essiac tea be a better choice

ANSWER: My choice would be Essiac tea adding 25 drops of extract of Astragalus to support and tonify the immune system.  Drink plenty of Green tea daily.  Avoid foods that stagnate the system, such as: Red meats, pork, white sugar, all dairy, all fried foods, foods containing additives or preservatives, alcohol and excessive coffee.  Enhance your diet with foods rich in Omega 3 & 6, like: Salmon, mackerel, sardines. Eat fresh garlic daily. Also eat chicken, turkey, brown rice, honey, raw or steamed vegetables and plenty of fresh fruit.

QUESTION: Mu wife had breast cancer which is under control. She has hot flushes.  A herbalist gave her three remedies to use I would like to know if any of these herbs such could be considered as possibly problematic for breast cancer patients? Or contraindicated for cancer. 

Black cohosh, alfafa, hawthorne, liquorice root, chaste tree, cranesbill, mother-wort, vervain, wild yam, false unicorn root, soy.  Can any of these herbs reawake the cancer cells?

ANSWER: The herbs should be fine, it also depends on the form used, the dosage and the frequency.

I would suggest avoiding so many herbs and drinking infusions of Lemon Balm and adding 15 drops extract of Black Cohosh and 15 drops extract of St. John's Wort This combination is very effective in treating hot flashes. Drink 3xs day in particular an hour or two before bedtime, and sweeten only with a bit of honey. Extracts and tinctures work better and faster. Drink as needed.


I have a form of breast cancer that is estrogen receptor-positive.   Are any
of the herbs in Essiac  phytoestrogens?

ANSWER: To my knowledge they are not  estrogen receptors. The Essiac is not based on hormone type herbs, and I have never heard of anyone having this problem.  I suggest you call the manufacturer, and double check with them on this matter.  Essiac has been a great formula for many people. If I may suggest that you read the following downloads, especially the castor oil packs on your breast, and on your abdomen, cleansing and cleaning your gall bladder, and bowel. We carry the herbs suggested if you decide to do this.

My grandmother, 76 years old, recently had a partial mastectomy as treatment for breast cancer.  Of the 14 lymphnodes they removed, 12 were found to be cancerous.  However, a bone scan showed that the cancer had not spread to her skeletal system.  As a result, she will undergo chemotherapy as well as radiation but not until the middle of August or so.  We are wondering if there are any herbal products that she could be using until then.  We are concerned that some may have adverse affects if taken too near the time she begins her traditional chemotherapy.  We purchased Essiac having heard some very promising things about it, but then realized one of the ingredients in it has a form of estrogen.  Grandma's cancer is estrogen receptive so we are unsure if it would be good to take it. Basically, we are very confused as to what we should be doing at this point and if some herbal products could prove to be harmful rather than
beneficial.  Could you please fill us in on Essiac as well as any other products you think could prove beneficial?  Also, is there anything she should be taking during both the chemo and radiation therapies?
Thank you for this service and I look forward to reading your response and sharing it with my family.

I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother. There are several things you can do to help her. However, and please don't take this the wrong way, giving her life and health promoting herbs and then subjecting her to the poison of chemo and radiation seems counter productive to me. I know cancer is a very scary thing and you want to take every avenue, but what you're proposing will be counter productive. Still, I'll give you the herbs for helping to bring the body back to a state of wellness and you can decide from there.
           First, there's diet. Several foods have been clinically proven to help prevent cancer and recurrence. Those are apples, burdock, carrots, dark, leafy greens, dried beans, garlic, kelp, soy products, sweet potatoes and wild mushrooms. Turmeric is a wonderful spice and it is extremely effective at inhibiting recurrence in laboratory animals. It has greater anti-oxidant abilities than Vitamins C, E, or beta carotene. So use it to season your food.
           If you are bent on going the chemotherapy route, use the time you have to strengthen her liver. Dandelion, yellow dock, burdock and milk thistle are the herbs of choice for this. I also have a liver tonic tea you can purchase on my website at www.allgoodegifts.com in the Herb Shoppe under TEAS.
           Essiac is wonderful and has most of these liver toning herbs in it. (I'm not sure which herb you feel is a form of estrogen. Essiac should only have burdock, yellow dock, slippery elm, sheep sorrel and turkey rhubarb root. If there's anything else in there, it's not the original Essiac formula and I would find one that is from an herb store. In addition, many women suffering from breast cancer have used Essiac with great success, so the estrogen issue shouldn't be a factor.  Hopefully this has provided the information you need. Consider carefully whether to subject your grandmother to the problems and issues that will be added by chemo or radiation therapy.

QUESTION:  I am wondering if a woman's nipple itches, is that one of the symptoms of breast cancer..  I don't have any drainage it is just sore but, as long as I keep antibiotic cream on my nipple it doesn't bother me to much..  And, it is a little bit painful but, not too bad..  Could you please let me know.

If the area around your nipple is scaly and itchy, I would have it checked. You say there is no discharge, but they are sore. Are you nursing? Is this all the time or before your period? Don't take any chances. Seek medical attention if for no other reason than your peace of mind. If an antibiotic cream is helping you, then it may also be some sort of fungus. Hopefully you are doing regular monthly breast exams to ensure you are aware of any changes in your breasts.

I hope this is just a simple question because I am asking it for a customer at the Pharmacy where I work. She is having hot flashes and wants to take something like Promensil or Estroven, or Soy isoflavones, or black cohosh, etc....but she has had breast cancer in the past and is on tamoxifen. I don't know about these supplements, but I know you're not supposed to take estrogen supplements with tamoxifen as that would defeat the purpose! But I can't think of what to suggest that she can take for hot flashes. She is an
older woman, probably at least 60 to 70 years old. 

I would not worry so much about the herb it is the drug she is on that concerns me, Tamoxifen has been associated with increased risk of uterine cancer.

The second thing is no herb has estrogen in it, it may have chemicals similar to estrogen's chemical structure or may effect the body like estrogen but no estrogen. Most plant phytoestrogens act amphoterically in the female reproductive system, either they act like estrogen in hypo conditions or take up receptor sites in hyper conditions. I do not see it as an issue for her.

The Tamoxifen is what she should be worried about. She may be trading borrowed time today only to deal with another problem tomorrow. 

I would use medicinal mushrooms to help her immune system fight the cancer and might employ a Chinese herbal formula called Fu Zheng, which boost immune response, increase energy and helps fight the side effects of chemotherapy, such as Tamoxifen.

Black Cohosh, Latin Named: Cimicifuga racemosa is a great herb for the female reproductive system, it is appropriately used for doom and gloom depression, pain from muscular arthritis, uterine pain, hot flashes and other menopausal issues.

The phytoestrogen in Black Cohosh is FORMONONETIN, this chemical has the following activities:Abortifacient; Anticephalagic; Antifeedant; Antiulcer; Cancer-Preventive; Estrogenic; Fungicide; Herbicide-Safener; Hypocholesterolemic; Hypolipidemic; Myorelaxant; Pesticide; VAM-Stimulant

The suggested preparation and dose of this herb is 10 - 30 drops, 3 to 4 times a day of a fresh or dry alcohol extract of the root or you can try a making a tea daily of 1/2 to 1 teaspoons of recently ground dried root to 12 ounces of water, boil herb in water for 15 - 30 minutes keep lid on pot, let herbs in water and cool for at least 1 hour, drink 4 ounces of tea 3 or 4 times a day.

I would suggest the tincture more convenient.

Dosage and preparation methods differ among herbalists, the standard joke among is us if you have 12 herbalists in a room, you will get 13 opinions.

You will be able to fine tune the dose by increasing a few drops at a time until you see results. Give it a couple weeks to see effects. Most suggested doses are low to begin with and can be increased most of the time, but guidance of a local herbalist would help.

There is a Herbalpedia available from the webmaster of Herbworld and Herbnet email Herbworld@aol.com for details. Herbalpedia(TM) is a monthly monograph series of herbs through which you'll receive 5 in depth profiles of various botanicals. They are more extensive than the monographs in our monthly online magazine. We try to pick a selection of medicinal herbs, culinary herbs and spices. But often these lines are foggy and you'll get plants that cross all the borders. We try to find the most up-to-date research as well as the folklore. And we want to give you as man6y ways to use the plants as possible, so of course, there's always lots of recipes. Our aim is to increase your knowledge and awareness of our green relations as well as increase your culinary and healing skills. If ordered hardcopy they come double-sided with 3 punch holes so they're easily included in a binder. They range from 2-8 pages in length. Back issues can be ordered separately
Contraindications: 1.) Do not take if pregnant except in the last 2 weeks, helps to bring on delivery and ease labor by stimulating the uterus. 2.) This herb has been known to increase or decrease blood pressure depending on the person, 3.) this herb is very strong and is not for kids or weak people such as elderly or sick. 4.) This herb should be taken with food because it could cause irritation of the gastric mucousal of your digestive tract.

For more information about chemical constituents in plants go to Jim Duke, PhD website and look up the constituents for Black Cohosh, at the following
URL: http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/plants.html

Chaste Tree, Monks pepper, Latin Named: Vitex agnus-castus is also used for Hot Flashes and other menopause issues, it does not contain phytoestrogens and works via the pituitary gland balancing FSH (folicle stimulating hormone) and LH (lutenizing hormone). Use for elevated estrogen and normal to low progesterone OR normal estrogen and low progesterone. 

The suggested preparation and dose of this herb is 60 - 90 drops, up to three times a day of a dry alcohol extract or up to two cups a day of freshly ground berry tea which has been covered with boiling water and left to steep with the lid on for up to one hour. Note get these doses in early in the day, before lunch to see the best effect.

Contraindications:pregnancy especially after first trimester. Low estrogen levels and elevated progesterone levels.

Note smaller amounts over a longer term is better then larger amounts over a short term for this herb.

Additionally - Licorice root, Dang Qui and White Sage has also been used for Hot Flashes.

I was recently diagnosed with stage 1 neg. node estrogen receptive breast
cancer. I am currently taking tamoxifen. As a result of the tamoxifen I am
having vaginal dryness. Have a desire for sex, but hard to achieve orgasm.
Was wondering if avena sativa is safe to take with breast cancer history?
If not can you recomend any thing else? What about muira puama. Not having
any issues with my body or psycological. Think it's purely physical from
tamoxifen. >>

Oats, Latin Named Avena Sativa would not be contraindicated for your condition. Oats are normally given for people who suffer from sexual neurasthenia, stress and nervous issues. It is a great nerve tonic and food. Additionally it has helped women who have vaginal dryness caused by menopause, so it may help you. It is best taken as a fresh alcohol extract. The energy of this plant is warm and moistening. It is also used in combination with other herbs as listed below.

My concern would be the drug you are taking, Tamoxifen increases the risk of uterine cancer. I hope your physician made you aware of the risk-benefit ratio for this treatment. Additionally studies have revealed the reduced effectiveness of the drug over time and possible increased risk for breast cancer, which women are taking it to prevent. 

(MAYO CLINIC)-- A study published in the July 30, 1999, issue of the journal Science revealed that the anti-estrogen drug, Tamoxifen, may lose its effectiveness in preventing breast cancer - and may even begin to promote the disease - after 2 to 5 years of use.

If you continue on the Tamoxifen, you should consider the use of a great Traditional Chinese formula. It is called Fu Zheng. It increases immune response, appetite and energy while at the same time reduces the side effects of the chemo drug which can cause nausea. You may also want to employ the use of Milk Thistle to protect your liver because testing has shown some toxicity to the liver, animal studies have also shown an increase risk for liver cancer but this does not prove an increased risk of liver cancer in humans.

Other herbs which can be used for dryness are:

Licorice Root, Latin Named: Glycorrhiza uralensis, this herb in addition to being moistening to mucus membranes is also appropriate for Estrogen sensitive cancers because of its Phytoestrogen content. This herb is traditionally used in Hoxsey and Fu Zheng formulas

Shatavari, Latin Named: Asparagus racemosis is commonly referred to as "She with a thousand husbands" and is good for vaginal dryness

Chaste Tree, Monks pepper, Latin Named: Vitex agnus-castus is used in combination with Oats and Shatavari for vaginal dryness, there are some reports that it stimulate the libido in women.

White Pond Lily, Latin Named: Nymphaea odorata is good for vaginal dryness, it is used in combination with fresh oat, licorice and Shatavari.

Use Evening Primrose Oil as a supplement to decrease vaginal dryness.

Additionally the use of CoQ10 as a supplement has helped women with breast cancer, I have seen suggested doses of 200 to 800 mg. Donnie Yantz well know cancer fighting herbalist suggests 400 mg, taken with an EPA rich essential fatty acid to increase absorption.


Marshmallow, Latin Name: Althea officinalis
Slippery Elm, Latin Name: Ulmus fulva, U. Rubra

are used for dryness that can occur any where in the body.

As to Muira Puama, Latin Named, Ptychopetalum olacoides, P. uncinatum 

See Dr Jim Dukes Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases for the chemical constiuents and the activities of Muira Puama at: 


There seems to be a controversy about its aphrodisiac effects but most agree it has tonic qualities which may help you. My question would be is this the best herbal choice for you.

Finally there maybe other herbs which contain Phytoestrogen which may be helpful for you such as Red Clover and Soy Beans. Plant Phytoestrogen act as Estrogen Effect Amphoterics, increasing estrogen like effects when Estrogen levels are low and replacing Estrogen in its receptor sites in the body so reducing its Estrogen effects in excess.

A great book on cancer and herbs is written by Donnie Yantz, entitled Herbal Medicine, Healing and Cancer.

QUESTION: I've just had a mascectomy and my  post surgery results indicated cancer cells in the lymph nodes/system. What can I do herbally to help while I go through chemotherapy?

ANSWER: If you are going to begin chemo or radiation therapies, I would suggest a
Chinese formula called Fu Zheng. As the story goes, Chinese Doctors who
trained in oncology at the US medical universities returned to their country
to find that chemotherapy drugs were unavailable or to expensive for the
general public. These Doctors knew the Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM)
and consulted with a practitioner to find toxic or poisonous plants to use
instead of the prescription chemo drugs, which are basically poison
themselves. The TCM practitioners provided the herbs which would do the
same as the chemo type drugs and when administered to the clients produced
the same adverse actions and side effects, lethargy, nausea, reduced immune
reservoir and response and loss of appetite. Luckily the US trained Chinese
Doctors went one step further and asked the TCM practitioner to provide an
herbal protocol to counteract the side effects of the poisonous plants.
This formula called Fu Zheng helped the client to increase immune response,
have more energy, reduce nausea and eat more post chemo therapies whether
plant based or prescription drug based. We have had great responses from
customers and clients who have taken this Fu Zheng therapy when undergoing
both radiation and chemotherapy.

Here are some general guide lines for you.

Reduce exposure to Xeno-estrogens in the environment and diet, for
example, pollutants, herbicides, insecticides, cleaners, plastics especially
don't cook foods in plastic container in microwaves, etc. Eat organic,
lower red meat ingestion, increase vegetables to be largest part of your
diet. Reduce stress, release problems emotional and otherwise.

Clean up your diet completely the fuel of cancer is simple sugars and
carbohydrates: Stop eating anything with dextrose, sucrose, lactose,
maltose, corn syrup, sorbitol and any other alcohol-sugars or those made
from white flour or refined flour as an ingredient. This is most of the processed and
refined foods. Eat only organic whole foods, join a Community Supported
Agriculture (CSA) to receive seasonal produce or buy organic foods such as
Lady Moon brand at Giant or Weis supermarkets. Shop at health food stores
if available. Fat free foods are high in sugar in most cases and should be
avoided, they take the fat out but put sugar type molecules in for texture
and flavor.

My suggestion would be to write on a 3x5 card in this order

1. Water
2. Vegetables 
3. Protein
4. Fats
5. Fruits should be your desert if you have desert.

Carry the card everywhere you go.

Then eating and planning a meal or ordering off a menu is easy. Preferred
drink is bottled water, reduce consumption of fluorinated or chlorinated water.
Drink upwards of 12 - 15 glasses of water a day - you will urinate more
frequently at first but within a short timeframe your body will adjust and
you will simply have more volume at you previous regular elimination intervals.
Eliminate soda, juice, sugared drinks, drink herbal tea, flavor water with
lemon when water becomes intolerable by itself.

Eat vegetables as your mainstay, especially cruciferous veggies, kale,
brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and the colorful ones as well,
tomatoes, peppers, carrots etc. Make soups with Medicinal mushrooms bases
or get a tincture of them - Shitake, Maitake, Chaga and Gano derma; these
mushrooms are immune boosting.

Proteins should be organic, do not buy proteins produced from steroid or
antibiotic injected stock, eat deep sea fish as your preferred protein, then
chicken and turkey, finally pork and beef as last choice if at all. Eat
only organic produced, fish, foul and meats. You only need a small amount
roughly the size of a deck of playing cards, 4 oz.

The fruits again should be the colorful, blue, red and purple fleshed when
consumed; you should realize they are high in sugar also and use them as a dessert
choice, if you have dessert at all.

The colors indicate flavonoids, carotenoids and other nutrients which are
all good for you such as lycopene, proanthocyanidins, anthocyanidins,
cyanidins, lutein, betacarotene etc,.

You should also increase lymph movement; use of Alterative herbs improve
elimination through many pathways of the body.

Use burdock, violet, cleavers, poke, red root, red clover, Figwort and other
lymphatic herbs

Since I don't know all the facts I will include the following:

Licorice is used for Estrogen sensitive Breast Cancers, this is a component
in the Hoxy formula a traditional anticancer herbal formula and the Fu Zheng

Astragulus is a great immune building herb, it can be used in your herbal anticancer

Chaga is one of the strongest medicinal mushrooms; it is appropriate for
breast, lung, stomach, rectum and many other parts of the body cancers.

Red Clover is especially helpful for clearing lymph congestion in the
breasts. The isoflavones inhibit mastitis of cancer cells and inhibit
growth of estrogen sensitive cancers. This herb is appropriate for breast
and ovarian cancers. It has a long history of use for cancer and is used as
a Alterative.

Violet is the number one lymphatic drainage herb, used in many traditional
herbal cancer formulas, fresh juice or fresh leaf tincture is best. In TCM
they used it to remove hardness in body, i.e. tumors.

This is the best I can do without knowing all the facts.