Introduction to your breast cancer handbook

If you have received a breast cancer diagnosis and are interested in exploring additional approaches to improve your odds of living as well as you can for as long as you can, you have come to the right place. We have many resources on integrative breast cancer care, which incorporates the best of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy, self carelifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress and complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture to support you. Learn more about Integrative Cancer Care ›

Synthesizing the evidence and information to support you

To help you make informed decisions, we review and share the evidence behind therapies and practices you may be considering. We also consult some of the leading experts in the field of whole-person cancer care and share their insights with you.

This handbook will help you make discerning decisions about conventional care and explore the many self-care practices and complementary therapies with evidence regarding improving breast cancer outcomes, managing side effects, and reducing the risk of recurrence.

Integrative cancer care helps you at each phase of your experience

Integrating self care with the best of conventional treatment and complementary therapies is a good idea. A review of 90 consecutive patients with metastatic breast cancer treated with an integrative approach showed substantially better survival—about 80% better or more—among those who received a comprehensive clinical program combining conventional treatments with nutrition and supplementation, fitness and mind-spirit instruction compared to conventional treatment alone.1Block KI, Gyllenhaal C  et al. Survival impact of integrative cancer care in advanced metastatic breast cancer. Breast Journal. 2009 Jul-Aug;15(4):357-66.

Compelling evidence shows our 7 Healing Practices › have benefit for optimizing key body terrain factorsthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation, and more in studies with breast cancer. These practices may lead to improved survival and lower risk of recurrence. Many can also help manage side effects and symptoms and improve your overall health and wellness. These practices can be used at any time during your cancer experience. 

Complementary therapies can also be a helpful tool to incorporate throughout your cancer experience. Research shows that many can reduce symptoms and side effects, and some have evidence showing benefits in improving cancer outcomes and balancing terrain factors, which create an environment within your body that is less conducive to cancer growth and spread. 

Some practices and appropriate therapies also show added benefits at specific times:

  • Before starting cancer treatment, you can build your resilience and get yourself into your best shape. 
  • During cancer treatment, adding the 7 Healing Practices and complementary therapies may be a sensible way to bolster the effects of conventional treatment and improve your tolerance to the side effects so you can complete your treatments. 
  • After you complete treatment, incorporating therapies and practices can help you heal from treatment and help prevent cancer recurrence.

Using this handbook

This handbook provides a wealth of information in integrative medical care for people with breast cancer, divided into sections for each phase of cancer. We suggest that you use it much as you might use a map or travel guide on a long road trip. Refer to it again and again, looking at the parts that apply to where you are right now on your journey.

Focus on what you need—you may want to look specifically at managing side effects and symptoms, or at improving surgery outcomes, or at finding a health professional to guide you. 

The list of top practices and therapies, like a trip packing list, is a good summary of the self-care practices and complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies that you’ll want to consider packing for your journey.

We encourage you to share this handbook with those who are helping you in your cancer experience and who may be interested: your caregivers, your medical team, your family, and friends. 

If you are in crisis now, we recommend that you first take the time to address your feelings of crisis and distress. Come back to this handbook when you can focus your attention here.

Words of guidance

Read some words of inspiration and guidance from Michael Lerner, CancerChoices co-founder and author of Choices in Healing.

Keep reading about breast cancer

Authors

Laura Pole, MSN, RN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, MSN, RN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher and writer for CancerChoices and also served as the first program manager. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher

Gwendolyn Stritter, MD

Physician and CancerChoices advisor
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Dr. Stritter is board-certified in anesthesiology. She was also certified in pain medicine from 1996 to 2016 and served as the director of the Kaiser San Jose Pain Medicine Clinic for 10 years. Wishing to pursue a more patient-centered style of practice, Gwen subsequently trained with Dr. Mark Renneker, honing her medical advocacy skills to help those with life-threatening health problems. Her own high risk for breast cancer led her to focus on that area in particular.

During her 13 years of clinical advocacy practice, she appeared on radio, lectured and wrote many articles on medical advocacy. She also coauthored the chapter on clinical advocacy in the textbook Patient Advocacy for Healthcare Quality: Strategies for Achieving Patient-Centered Care (2007).

As fate would have it, Dr. Stritter was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. Although side effects of treatment forced closure of her medical advocacy practice, she continues to enjoy attending several breast cancer conferences every year, learning best integrative oncology practices and mentoring the next generation of breast cancer medical advocates.

Gwendolyn Stritter, MD Physician and CancerChoices advisor

Reviewers

Michael Lerner is co-founder of Commonweal and co-founder of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, Healing Circles, The New School at Commonweal, and CancerChoices. He has led more than 200 Commonweal Cancer Help Program retreats to date. His book Choices In Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer was the first book on integrative cancer care to be well received by prominent medical journals as well as by the patient and integrative cancer care community.

Michael Lerner Co-Founder

Walter Tsang, MD

Integrative oncologist
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Dr. Walter Tsang is quadruple board-certified in medical oncology, hematology, lifestyle medicine, and internal medicine. In addition to providing cutting-edge treatments for cancer and blood diseases, Dr. Tsang regularly advises his patients on nutrition, physical activity, stress management, and complementary healing methods. He has seen firsthand how this whole-person approach improved his patients’ quality of life and survival.

Outside of his clinical practice, Dr. Tsang teaches integrative oncology at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine and directs an educational seminar program for cancer survivors in the community. His research interests focus on comparing and integrating the traditional Eastern and modern Western perspectives of cancer care. His fluency in Chinese further allows him to study the enormous integrative medicine literature published in the East that is not easily accessible to the West due to the language barrier.

Dr. Tsang is an active member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Society for Integrative Oncology, and American College of Lifestyle Medicine. He currently practices in the Inland Empire region of Southern California.

Walter Tsang, MD Integrative oncologist

Last update: May 18, 2024

Last full literature search: January 2023

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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