DCIS – Is It Really Breast Cancer?

by  Tanya Harter Pierce

Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) is a common breast cancer diagnosis.  In fact, it is so common that it accounts for 20-25% of all breast cancer diagnoses in the United States.  But is it really cancer?

Two Conflicting Definitions

DCIS is a diagnosis that is given when abnormal or atypical cells are detected in one or more of the milk ducts of a woman’s breast.  The “In Situ” part means the abnormal cells are “in place” and have not spread outside the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue.  However, beyond that, there appear to be two conflicting definitions as to what DCIS really is.  Many doctors and medical sites describe it as an “early form of breast cancer.”  (Which would indicate that it is cancer.)  While other doctors and resources refer to it as a “pre-cancerous” state that might turn into cancer at some point.  (Which would indicate that it is not cancer.)   Yet, countless women who receive this diagnosis are told they have breast cancer and many are scared into extreme treatment procedures that include mastectomy, radiation, and/or hormone-blocking therapy ¾ all of which can cause significant negative side effects.

The late Dr. John R. Lee, world-renowned women’s hormones expert and author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer, wrote that DCIS is a condition involving abnormal cells that may turn into cancer, but have not yet done so.  He went on to explain that DCIS is essentially a benign condition where only a small fraction of cases will go on to become malignant cancer.  Other prominent physicians agree with Dr. Lee’s stance, such as Dr. Marleen Meyers, oncologist and director of the Perlmutter Cancer Center Survivorship Program at NYU Langone Health.  On the website, www.health.com, Dr. Meyers is quoted as saying, “I make sure to tell patients that, even though DCIS has the word ‘carcinoma’ in it, it’s not actually cancer.” 

Well-known OB/GYN and leading expert on women’s health issues, Dr. Christiane Northrup, is another physician who says DCIS is not cancer.  On her website, www.northrup.com, Dr. Northrup makes this impassioned statement:

“I have friends who have had bilateral mastectomies for DCIS.  This absolutely breaks my heart because DCIS is NOT cancer, though many doctors consider it to be  ‘Stage 0 cancer.’  And, depending upon what advice a woman is then given, she may well be advised to get treatment, which she rarely needs.  This is a shame because 99.9 percent of the time DCIS is something a woman will die with but not die from!”

For those women who are still unsure as to what to think, here is a tip:

DCIS is always referred to as “Breast Cancer, Stage 0”

That’s “Breast Cancer, Stage Zero.”  It would seem that if something is Stage Zero, it is not really something yet.  Logic indicates that Stage 1 would be the first stage of a disease, whereas Stage Zero would be before the first stage of the disease.  So, women who have been diagnosed with DCIS may want to say, “Whoa, not so fast with the breast cancer diagnosis!”

Treatment

There are a variety of options for treating DCIS, including a watch and wait approach or simple lumpectomy.  One helpful understanding comes from Dr. John Lee, who considered DCIS to be the result of metabolic dysfunction involving progesterone deficiency and estrogen dominance.  According to Dr. Lee, if the underlying hormonal cause is not corrected, the condition could develop in the other breast as well, or recur in the same breast after treatment.  Thus, his recommendation is to always include a focus on balancing one’s hormones and that each DCIS case should be evaluated individually as to whether surgery should also be involved or not.

How likely is it that DCIS will turn into cancer?  It seems this is difficult to assess with various sources suggesting widely varying guesses.  But the real issue is the starting definition and whether DCIS, when first diagnosed, is cancer or not.  The concern here is that great fear goes along with this very common “cancer” diagnosis and risky treatment procedures are often recommended.  Being as informed as possible may reduce the fear and allow a woman to feel she has time to look into the issues for herself and possibly get a second or even third medical opinion.

The good news is that, if DCIS is just a pre-cancerous condition, then a woman can rest easier knowing she does not have cancer and that either a watch and wait approach or a minimal surgical procedure may be all she needs!

Tanya Harter Pierce, M.A. LMFT, is the author of OUTSMART YOUR CANCER:   Alternative Non-Toxic Treatments That Work

For more information visit her website:  OutsmartYourCancer.com