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Breast Cancer Then and Now

by J.H. Hacsi

In 1713 an Italian doctor reported that nuns suffered from a relatively high rate of breast cancer, a markedly higher rate than that suffered by non-cloistered women who customarily married and had children. Did their celibate, childless lives make these nuns more vulnerable to this cancer?

Our current cultural patterns don’t push women toward celibacy but do allow them to separate sexual activity from childbirth.

Effective contraception, the legalization of abortion and the Women’s Liberation movement freed women physically and culturally, allowing them to be sexually active without bearing children. In response women began marrying at a later age, bearing their first child at a later age, spacing their children farther apart, and having fewer children or no children at all.

Unhappily, when marriage and childbearing stopped being the top priority for many modern women, they faced the same problem the nuns of earlier ages faced: an elevated risk of breast cancer. According to a World Health Organization report, from 1960 to 1980 the average number of yearly deaths, age adjusted, increased by about 60%. After 1980 the rate of increase slowed but breast cancer remains a fearsome foe. Among all cancers, only lung cancer claims more victims.

Julius Cohnheim, an early cancer scientist, offered a theory of cancer’s origin. As an embryo develops, Cohnheim claimed, more cells are produced than are needed. This leaves an excess of germ cells behind. This excess material may in time form a cancer.

Following conception the first cells to differentiate from the fertilized egg are placental cells called trophoblasts. These trophoblasts establish a food supply. These cells never become a part of the fetus and are either destroyed or rendered inert before delivery.

In 1902 a Scottish doctor, John Beard, Ph.D., Professor of Embryology at Edinburgh University, at that time the preeminent medical school in the English-speaking world, published an article in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, titled, The Unitarian Trophoblastic Theory of Cancer.

Beard reported that when the placenta implants into the uterus, it burrows in and invades the mother’s tissue exactly as cancer cells do. He also claimed that cancer cells closely resemble the trophoblast cells surrounding the developing embryo, the cells that form the placenta and umbilical cord to nourish the embryo.

In 1911 Dr. Beard published a book, The Enzyme Treatment of Cancer and its Scientific Basis, in which he further elaborated on his research, claiming that he had figured out the cause and cure for cancer. He had begun his career years before studying a certain kind of fish that had alternating life cycles, one sexual, one asexual. Later he extended his studies to mammals, humans in particular. His years of study led him to conclude that cancer was asexual generation, a wild and crazy pregnancy without an embryo.

He had found that the fast-growing trophoblast cells – cells that taken to a laboratory would be identified as cancer cells – stopped growing when the baby’s pancreas forms. This was true in every species he studied. Once the pancreas is formed, it begins producing pancreatic enzymes and these enzymes, Beard concluded, controlled trophoblast cell growth. If this growth isn’t brought under control, a deadly cancer – chorion-carcinoma can quickly kill the mother and fetus.

Since pancreatic enzymes control trophoblast cells during pregnancy, Dr. Beard was convinced these enzymes could also control cancerous tumors.

Before his theories could be put to an adequate test, Marie and Pierre Curie, working in Paris, discovered radium. They announced that their newly discovered element could destroy cancerous tumors safely and effectively. The world listened and radiation became the treatment of choice. Professor Beard’s pancreatic enzyme treatment fell by the wayside.

Healthy bodies have immune systems on duty 24/7 to detect and destroy any foreign invader. If exceptions weren’t made to this rule, there would be no new life.

For conception to occur, the sperm must reach and invade the egg, which almost always happens within the female body. The sperm is a foreign invader and therefore subject to attack. To forestall this attack, nature provides a shield, a substance with a high electrical charge known as hCG. Agents of the immune system also carry an electrical charge. Like charges repel each other so the sperm can reach the egg without attack. When the sperm enters the egg and the cells begin to divide, the developing embryo, with its chromosomes from the father, is also a foreign body and therefore would be attacked if it too weren’t protected by hCG.

In time it was found that the sperm and trophoblast cells produce the hCG that protects them from attack.

Researchers also found that cancer cells produce a form of hCG,

The sperm and embryo are protected to ensure the safety of new life. For some reason cancer cells – malformed, mutant, uncivilized cells – are put under the same umbrella of chemical/electrical protection. This allows the cancer within us to grow and travel. Cancer, no matter how destructive it is, is treated within our bodies as a welcome invasion of new life.

Cancer has been called a pregnancy without an embryo. According to several studies, having your first child before you’re thirty, breast feeding your children and having several children all offer some protection. But these “protections” may not be in keeping with the way we want to live. Are there other ways to prote4ct ourselves?

The longer we live, the more vulnerable we become. Aging gives us time to develop painful issues with any children we have and sharper regrets about how we have lived our lives. Dropping dead at sixty-five might protect us from cancer, but may not suit us. So is there any alternative?

Yes. To avoid the stress that brings on disease, we need to know ourselves. Instead of pushing worries away, we need to drag up into consciousness and deal with and resolve all issues that fester within. To avoid being hit with a “pregnancy” we don’t want, we need to live out our longings, not our fears.


Excerpted from Plagues Past and Present, A Mind/Body/Approach by J. H. Hacsi. Paper, $14.

Available at Baker and Taylor, www.Amazon.com or on order from any bookstore.


J. H. Hacsi graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and earlier in her life wrote short stories (over 200 published) and romance novels (eight published). Throughout her life she has been greatly interested in history and science, also the role of the mind and mysticism and has read widely in these fields. She is a widow with five sons and five grandchildren and lives in Claremont, CA. .

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