Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US and one of the leading causes around the world. According to the World Health Organization, in 2008 about 13% of deaths worldwide were due to cancer while in the US about 500,000 deaths per year are due to cancer.
A 2005 report from the Centers for Disease Control report the death rate from cancer has only declined by 5% since 1950. While the death rates from heart disease, stroke and infections have dropped markedly, the death rate from cancer has hardly dropped at all. In 1971 President Nixon declared the “war on cancer”. Forty years and billions of dollars later, these statistics show the war is not going very well.
Conventional cancer treatments include combinations of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation – the cut, poison and burn approach. Newer therapies such as hormonal manipulation, monoclonal antibody therapies and gene identification are at the forefront of medical research. Billion upon billions of dollars have been, and should be, spent funding cancer research, but clearly there needs to be some expansion of our efforts.
Alternative or complementary cancer treatments are well studied and effective in improving cancer prevention as well as treatment. Integrating these treatments into conventional cancer programs is possible, available, and it works. Cancer centers around the country, such as the Block Center in Evanston, Illinois, have been studying and providing complementary cancer treatment for decades, with both clinical experience and data to prove integrative treatments work.
A large part of complementary cancer treatment focuses on keeping the patient healthy enough to survive the conventional treatments. Death from cancer is often caused by collateral damage from treatments that impair the immune system, the gut, or other organs. Side effects such as nausea and anorexia keep many patients from tolerating the full extent of conventional treatments. Improving lifestyle and boosting natural biological systems is a starting point for all patients.
Core nutritional needs during cancer treatment are paramount to survival since key nutrients are depleted, especially B vitamins, C, E and K. Radiation and some chemotherapy drugs use free radicals to kill cancer, which raises the bodies need for antioxidants, such as vitamin C, E, selenium or catechins in green tea. Numerous studies show a higher survival rate in cancer patients who increase their nutritional intake of specific micronutrients.
Diet plays a huge role in cancer prevention and survival. Increase cancer fighting phytochemicals, proteins and essential fats. Decrease sugar, dairy, red meats, alcohol and caffeine. Avoid chemical laden, nutrient depleted, calorie dense packaged and processed foods. Instead opt for raw, organic whole foods. During treatment diets can be customized to help healing from surgery, lower nausea, improve appetite, and improve immune function.
Exercise clearly prevents cancer and improves survival. For example, a 2006 Journal of Clinical Oncology study showed exercise is linked to survival and decreased recurrence even in stage 3 colon cancer patients. Another study shows even walking 3 to 5 hours per week correlates with a 50% decline in mortality from breast cancer. Exercise counters cancer-stimulating molecules called growth factors and lowers oxidative stress, while it boosts the immune system and ability to control inflammation. A lack of exercise is bad for your health, but it is a really bad idea for cancer patients
Starting with the words “you have cancer” patients enter a world of mind-numbing emotions. Depression, anxiety, anger and worry are normal, but focus on inner resources can turn emotions to joy and hope again. The “keeping a positive attitude” advice is an over-simplified myth, which does not increase cancer survival. But, it leads to genuine hope in the face of uncertainty, which supports the resolve to get the best treatment possible, and encourages nutritional and exercise habits that do increase survival.
Mind-spirit interventions have a profound effect on systems that fight cancer. Stress increases cancer friendly growth factors, free radicals, blood sugar, inflammation and factors that suppress the immune system. Strategies such as cognitive reframing, positive imaging, meditation, yoga, and such are important elements. The new field of “psycho-neuro-immunology” is shedding light on the connections between the brain and the body. Thought truly can influence biology.
Our internal biology can either nourish cancer cells or destroy them. By changing the internal “terrain” that surrounds cancer we can discourage its growth and reoccurrence. One can measure and treat markers of oxidation, inflammation, immune function, blood coagulation, insulin and stress chemicals. A combination of diet and targeted supplements can alter the terrain that feeds cancer.
A tremendous resource for cancer patients is “Life Over Cancer” by Dr Keith Block. Dr Block is an internationally recognized in expert integrative oncology with over 30 years of experience in conventional and complementary cancer treatments. Known as the “father of integrative oncology” he introduced the concept of combining nutraceutical supplements with conventional protocols and his research has proven his clinical success. I recommend this book as a starting point for anyone confronted with cancer..
The quest to cure cancer is getting much needed reinforcement from proven therapies that complement conventional surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Integrating diet, exercise and mind-body work into cancer treatment is proving effective. A variety of supplements and treatments are also being shown to improve the survival rate for cancer.
Supplements, especially antioxidants, have traditionally been shunned by conventional oncologists fearing the supplements will counter-act the action of chemotherapy drugs. World renowned integrative oncologist, Keith Block, MD, authored a 2007 paper in the Cancer Treatment Review which analyzed the effects of antioxidant supplements on the outcome of cancer patients. Looking at 19 clinical cancer trials the conclusion was “none of the trials reported evidence of significant decrease in efficacy from antioxidant supplementation during chemotherapy” and many studies showed “increased survival times, increased tumor responses, or both, as well as fewer toxicities than controls”
In his book “Natural Compounds in Cancer Therapy” author John Boik outlines, with multiple references, how various natural substances found in nutritional supplements can affect cancer. Just one example, curcumin, is a potent inhibitor of cancer-causing inflammation, inhibits enzymes that help cancer spread, and stimulates or supports the immune system. Others, including Vitamins D and A, melatonin, fish oil, and boswellic acid are all associated with anticancer effects.
Another great resource for guidance on nutrition and supplements is “Beating Cancer with Nutrition” by Patrick Quillin. Again, this well referenced book reviews many studies showing the role of nutritional supplements in the management of cancer.
Oncologist Charles Simone, MD, reviewed 280 studies, 50 of which involved cancer patients whom were taking nutrient supplements. These studies consistently showed that antioxidants and nutrients do not interfere with conventional cancer therapies or actually enhanced their effect while decreasing their side effects, protecting normal tissue.
Intravenous vitamin C has been shown to be effective in prolonging survival in cancer patients. In the 1970’s Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner, collaborated with Scottish cancer surgeon Ewan Cameron, and administered 10 days of high dose intravenous vitamin C to terminal cancer patients followed by long term oral doses of 10,000mg daily. The average survival time was 4 times greater in the patients who received vitamin C compared to those who did not.
A following series of vitamin C studies done at the Mayo clinic failed to confirm their findings and the medical establishment stepped away from further significant vitamin C research. The Mayo clinic studies, however, differed in several ways from Pauling’s studies, by failing to monitor vitamin C intake and by simply stopping vitamin C after no tumor shrinkage was observed. Pauling never claimed vitamin C cured cancer or even that it caused tumors to shrink – he claimed it slowed disease progression, increased survival time and improved quality of life.
In the 1980s, psychiatrist Abram Hoffer, MD followed a series of 131 cancer patients over a period of 9 years. His conclusions were striking, showing patients with a wide variety of advanced cancers have significantly improved survival when a nutritional program is added to their conventional treatment. This included relatively high doses of vitamin C.
In 1990 Hugh Riordan, MD, and colleagues treated an advanced case of kidney cancer with high dose intravenous vitamin C. The patient went into complete remission. A 1995 paper by Riordan describes the ability of high dose vitamin C to kill cancer cells while sparing normal healthy cells. More research in 2005 by Mark Levine, MD, and his group at the National Institute of Health, showed that high concentrations of vitamin C, achieved only by intravenous infusions, were capable of killing cancer cells without harming normal cells.
Currently, a clinical trial using high-dose vitamin C with chemotherapy is being conducted at the University of Kansas by Dr Jeanne Drisko. In our practice we are treating cancer patients with intravenous vitamin C following the protocol developed by Dr Riordan and also following the KU protocols. Our observations are consistent with studies that show prolonged survival and improved quality of life in cancer patients undergoing IV vitamin C infusions. A legal caveat – vitamin C treatment is specifically aimed at nutritional and immune support – despite encouraging research we make no claims at using vitamin C to treat cancer.
Other advancements in cancer treatment involve refinements to conventional chemotherapy. “Insulin Potentiation Therapy” is a treatment that involves giving a patient enough insulin to lead to a low blood sugar reaction, causing a moment when cancer cells (which have increased receptors for insulin) become far more open to uptake of substances given through an IV, including chemotherapy drugs. This may allow lower yet more effective doses of chemo with lesser side effects.
Testing for cancer genetics and sensitivity to chemo drugs is a fairly new area of medicine. By analyzing the genetics of cancer cells specific gene altering drugs may be given to stop cancer growth. “Targeted cancer therapies” are drugs or other substances that block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules involved in tumor growth and progression. Also testing cancer cells to various chemo agents can help determine which drugs are most likely to work.
Dr Stanislaw Burzinsky, MD, PhD, is doing work with “anti-neoplastins” which are naturally occurring peptides in the human body that control cancer growth. Anti-neoplastins act as molecular switches, which turn off life processes in abnormal cells and force them to die through apoptosis (programmed death of a cell). While they trigger the death of cancer cells, they do not inhibit normal cell growth.
Dr Nicolas Gonzalez has been investigating nutritional approaches to cancer since 1981 and specializes in using diet, supplements and pancreatic enzymes to treat cancer. Dr Keith Block uses “chronotherapy” which means giving chemotherapy in synchronicity with personal biological rhythms – giving chemo at the time cancer cells are dividing to maximize the effects of chemo while allowing lower doses and lesser side effects.
Integrative oncologists are changing the scope of cancer therapies and cancer patients benefit from a holistic approach. Simple changes in the “terrain” of our bodies can encourage or discourage cancer growth. Treatments aimed at nutritional and immune support can help patients survive conventional therapies. A “must read” for patients is a new book called “Defeat Cancer: 15 Doctors of Integrative and Naturopathic Medicine Tell You How”.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.