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Massage Today
June, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 06

Some Good News About Breast Cancer

By Elaine Stillerman, LMT

A friend of mine dropped the bomb at lunch a few months ago - a mutual friend had breast cancer. That made four women in our circle who have been afflicted by this dreaded disease. The good news is that all of them are now cancer-free, none of them lost a breast and all were able to tolerate the surgery, debilitating chemotherapy and radiation treatments that eventually saved their lives.

None of these women were taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT). So when the front page news covered the dramatic decrease in breast cancer rates, attributable to the decline in HRT, I was delighted. However, I was concerned it wasn't the whole story.

According to a Dec. 15, 2006, article in The New York Times, the rates of the most common cause of breast cancer, tumors stimulated by estrogen (estrogen-positive tumors), dropped by an incredible 15 percent. Science writer Gina Kolata also wrote that the greatest decline came to women between 50 and 69 years of age. The reason is believed to be that millions of women stopped taking HRT for menopausal symptoms. This information was based on a report by the National Cancer Institute.1

Nearly 85 percent of breast cancer originates in the mammary ducts.2 The remaining 15 percent develops in the lobules (small lobes).3 Breast cancer usually grows very slowly and is detected only after many years of growth.4 Breast cancer can either be an invasive cancer which develops when abnormal cells break out into the surrounding tissues or beyond, or carcinoma in situ, meaning that it has not spread.5 This disfiguring disease is the second leading cause of death among women, killing as many as 40,000 women a year.6

When it comes to estrogen-positive tumors, researchers have understood that these tumors have estrogen receptors on their cell surfaces. So, if a woman stops taking estrogen-replacement medications, the tumors would stop growing. Or at least that is the hypothesis: Starve the tumor of its food source and it won't get any worse. (The pharmaceutical companies are understandably distressed by this news and caution that more studies are needed.) While this is a tremendous discovery in breast cancer, that is only one of the numerous risk factors associated with this disease. For those women who have given up on HRT, this could indeed be lifesaving.

However, stopping the hormones doesn't mean that women are out of the woods. There are quite a number of risk factors that also have to be considered. A woman's age is a huge factor. Unlike cervical cancer, breast cancer risks increase with age. Rates usually are low in women under 40 years old and start to escalate at age 41. In the U.S., 95 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are 40 or older.7 The highest rates are in women over 70. Other factors include: inherited genetic mutations, family history, high breast density on mammogram, radiation exposure in youth, benign breast disease, elevated levels of estrogen, menopause at age 55 or older, first period before age 12, not having children or having the first child after age 35, high bone density, being overweight, Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, alcohol consumption, use of birth control pills, being tall, and finally, not breastfeeding.8

Monthly self-breast exams still are recommended to detect any changes in the breast tissue. Performing this exam around the same time each month after your period familiarizes you with what is normal and what is an unusual mass. Getting annual mammograms also is a good defense.

The news about the tremendous decline in breast cancer occurrence is something to celebrate for certain, but women should not become complacent about their health. Instead, we should continue to take care of ourselves, eat well, exercise regularly and spend a few minutes every month to ensure that all is well.


  1. Kolata G. "Reversing Trend, Big Drop is seen in Breast Cancer." New York Times, Dec. 15, 2006.
  2. Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. "Breast Facts: What is Breast Cancer?" 2006.
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. Kolata, op cit
  7. Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. "Risk Factors and
    Prevention: Getting Older," 2006.
  8. Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. "Risk Factors and Prevention: Factors that Increase Breast Cancer Risks," 2006.

Author's Note:

The photographs that accompanied my last Womankind article, "Pregnancy Leg Massage" (April issue, Vol. 7, No. 4) do not reflect the facts expressed in the piece or the protocol I teach in my MotherMassage® workshop. Artwork often is included in articles and when the author isn't consulted, the artwork can prove to be incorrect. This is what happened here. I apologize for any misinformation these images might have given the readers.

Based upon the dynamic changes and adaptations to the circulatory system during pregnancy, ischemic compression techniques (those that provide digital pressure and quick release) are contraindicated after the first trimester. These pictures appear to represent this technique. To be on the safe side, avoidance of these bodyworks throughout the entire pregnancy (and for at least three months postpartum) will prevent dislodging potential thrombi. Pregnant women produce four to five times more clotting factor as a safeguard against hemorrhages during labor. These clots are more likely to appear in the deeper vessels of her legs and calves - the iliac, femoral and saphenous veins which would indicate lymphatic drainage as the most appropriate choice for the gravidas' legs.

In addition, the increase of interstitial fluid (another adaptation) often causes legs and feet to swell. Again, the most appropriate bodywork technique to enhance lymphatic absorption is lymphatic drainage. This is done with 5 to 7 grams of pressure, starting at the proximal joint supporting the direction of the flow towards the heart.

These pictures also demonstrate floor lying positioning that places a pregnant woman flat on her back. This position is absolutely contraindicated during pregnancy for more than 3-5 minutes (if she can even tolerate it for that long). In this position, the weight of the uterus compresses the inferior vena cava and aorta, decreasing maternal blood pressure (often resulting in pregnancy-induced hypotensive syndrome) thereby cutting off blood and oxygen to the fetus. Anyone who has taken my workshop knows how concerned and insistent I am about recumbent or semi-sitting positioning. The pregnant woman's upper body (from the hips) must be comfortably elevated at no less than a 45-degree angle to no more than a 70-degree angle with her hips slightly tilted to the left with a small wedge and her legs elevated.

I am glad for the opportunity to clarify the mistakes made by the inclusion of these erroneous photos as a companion to my article and I thank Massage Today for letting me set the record straight. I trust that students interested in studying prenatal massage will avail themselves of the essential hands-on supervision of a professional instructor and not the casual display of unfortunately poorly-chosen pictures.

Click here for previous articles by Elaine Stillerman, LMT.


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