Despite what you may hear, there are many safe, nontoxic therapies for patients with cancer. This gentler, more humane approach is based on an entirely different paradigm and that is to strengthen the body and give it the tools needed to fight disease.
Every year, nearly 560,000 Americans die of cancer, and it is perhaps the most-feared of all diseases. But why is cancer so terrifying? Far more people die of heart problems and stroke, yet we don’t fear them like we do cancer. The answer is simple. It’s because we know that conventional cancer treatments can be toxic and debilitating. Patients often suffer more from treatment than they do from the disease itself. We’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the “war on cancer” in the past 40 years, yet we’ve made no significant progress. The death rate from cancer has not changed appreciably since 1950, and the survival gains attributed to blockbuster drugs—which often cost more than $100,000 per year—are measured in months rather than years.
Our therapies enhance immune function and the body’s ability to help put the brakes on the undisciplined, rapid cell division that is characteristic of cancer. They improve overall health and protect against cachexia, or wasting, which is a serious concern for cancer patients and can have direct anti-tumor or anti-metastasis effects. None of these therapies ravage the body or further deteriorate quality of life. In fact, in virtually all cases, they improve it. To complement any surgeries or drug treatments that may be recommended, our integrative physicians can also help devise therapies that can improve your prognosis.
Nutrition is a powerful therapy for patients who desperately need to keep up with the malnutrition brought on by cancer. At The Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine, we counsel patients in an appropriate diet that emphasizes nutrient-dense vegetables, fruit and lean protein and omits sugar, unhealthy fats, and processed foods.
We will also design a personalized nutritional supplement program for you. The past decade has seen an explosion of research on the benefits of vitamin D, melatonin, curcumin, modified citrus pectin, indole 3 carbinol and other supplements for people with cancer. A targeted supplement program is imperative for anyone with this disease.
We also offer a number of unique therapies and safe, effective pharmaceuticals. Studies conducted at the National Institutes of Health reveal that when blood concentrations of vitamin C reach target levels—which is only possible through IV administration—it becomes a potent chemotherapeutic agent that kills cancer cells but, unlike chemo drugs, leaves healthy cells intact. Patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation find themselves completely wiped out of energy. I.V. Nutrition is invaluable in providing essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids to help heal the body, especially as most patients experience nausea or are unable to eat.
This testing is recommended for families with a high risk of a genetic predisposition to certain cancers. A predisposition to certain cancers can be inherited via altered genes. Genetic testing aims to detect a genetic alteration, through their blood or tissue samples, that might increase the chances of a person developing a particular cancer. BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 are the two genes associated to hereditary ovarian and breast cancer. Mutations of MLH-1 and MLH-2 genes are associated with colorectal cancer.
Generally, it is necessary to test a person who has had cancer first to identify the genetic change causing cancer in the family. Blood relatives who have no signs of cancer can then choose to have testing to find out if they have inherited the altered genes that may make it more likely for them to get cancer. Patients who will be undergoing a genetic testing must not have had any recent blood transfusions.
Start by doing everything within your power to avoid environmental carcinogens. Stay away from tobacco smoke, including secondhand smoke. Make sure your home and workplace are properly ventilated, and consider using an air filtration system. Keep away from pesticides, herbicides, and radiation when you can. Also, avoid excessive sun exposure, but make sure you get at least 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day—your body’s production of vitamin D, which protects against cancer, depends on it.
Exercise regularly, for there is a well-defined association between moderate exercise and reduced cancer risk.
Drink lots of purified water as well as green tea, an exceptionally potent cancer fighter. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. And eat right. Saturated fat in meat and trans fats in fried and processed foods are perhaps the most harmful dietary components, for they stimulate tumor growth. On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish actually suppress cancer cell proliferation.
Make sure your diet includes lots of vegetables, fruits, and legumes, and if possible, make them organic. Regular consumption of high-fiber, nutrient-rich plant foods have been shown to confer a twofold reduction in cancer risk! Foods that are particularly beneficial include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli in particular, but also cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts). Also important are carotenoid-rich leafy greens, yellow-orange vegetables, tomatoes (especially cooked), citrus fruits, berries, and garlic.
One of the best and easiest things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer is to take a good daily multivitamin and mineral supplement—but it must contain more than the current RDA levels of protective nutrients found in most supplements. Look for at least 800 IU of vitamin D, which supports the breast, prostate, and colon, and 800 mcg of folic acid, which guards against DNA damage.
Make sure you’re getting enough antioxidants. Free radicals contribute to the diseases associated with aging, and cancer is no exception. The body’s repair mechanisms just can’t keep up with years of accumulated DNA damage, which explains why the vast majority of cancers develop in older people.
Vitamin C, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E have all been shown to reduce the incidence of cancer, and in recent years, selenium has emerged as one of the most chemopreventive antioxidants. A clinical trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that just 200 mcg of supplemental selenium daily could substantially reduce the death rate from cancer.
Another valuable antioxidant, one that you will not likely find in your multivitamin, is coenzyme Q10. Blood levels of this antioxidant are consistently lower in cancer patients than in healthy people, so taking 100-300 mg of CoQ10 a day may offer added protection.
If you eat lots of the all-star cancer-fighting foods discussed earlier, good for you. If you don’t, consider supplementing with extracts from these protective foods and herbs. Not crazy about broccoli? Take indole-3-carbinol (I3C). I3C blocks tumor growth and increases your body’s production of detoxifying enzymes. It is protective against tumors in the breast, ovary, and prostate. Green tea polyphenols, sulfur compounds from garlic, and lycopene and other carotenoids from tomatoes and other vegetables can also be found in concentrated form.
These are by no means the only natural substances that boost immunity and protect against cancer. There is a growing body of research supporting the benefits of curcumin, a phytonutrient in turmeric, and calcium D-glucarate, which has been shown to enhance the elimination of carcinogens.
Uncontrolled cell growth sometimes results in a mass of quickly dividing cells in the area where the transformation takes place. These can form the lumps known as tumors which may either be visible or located through touch. If the cancer is remaining confined to this one place in the body and is not invading the surrounding tissues it is considered benign. In some cases, however, the cancerous cells promote formation of blood vessels into the tumor cells in a process known as angiogenesis. By bringing in nutrients and oxygen through these blood vessels, it allows for more cancerous cell growth and invasion of neighboring tissues. If the cancer becomes malignant in this fashion, the cells may break away, or metastasize, allowing them to circulate in the body and spread the cancer.
Some cancers are caused by mutations to the cells that transform them. Carcinogens, for example, are a category of substances known to increase the incidence of cancer if cells are exposed to them. Some notable carcinogens include asbestos fibers and cigarette smoke. Some of these carcinogens actually cause permanent mutations to the DNA in the cells they transform, causing them to become cancerous. These can be more specifically referred to as mutagens. Ultraviolet light exposure can also cause mutations that lead to cancer. If a person is exposed to too much UV light from the sun while outdoors, for example, they may develop skin cancers due to the damaging effects of these rays on the DNA in their cells.
Hormones have a wide variety of effects in the body, including some that involve regulation of cell growth. Too much of the hormone estrogen, for example, has been linked to development of breast and endometrial cancers.
Certain cancers can also be caused by bacterial and viral infections. Chronic stomach infections with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, for example, can lead to inflammation of the stomach lining, ulcers, and cancerous lesions. Many different viruses have been implicated in the cancerous transformation of cells, as well, including human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B and C viruses, human T-lymphotrophic virus, and Epstein-Barr virus. Part of the life cycle of many viruses involves inserting the viral DNA into the host cell and using the host’s DNA replication and protein synthesis machineries to make new virus particles. During this process, the viral DNA may change the way the human DNA in the cell is regulated. In other cases, the viral DNA may actually insert itself into the human DNA, where it can continue to replicate more stably, and perhaps turn on human genes that are normally not expressed. Some of these genes, called proto-oncogenes, can cause cancer if they are turned on.
Some cancers are caused by immune dysfunction, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, a skin cancer that develops primarily in patients that have HIV. Lymphomas are cancers arising in the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight off infections. In these types of cancers, the cancerous cells travel freely through the body rather than forming tumors, allowing them to spread to all the lymph nodes quite rapidly.
Genetic variations and mutations can also increase a person’s likelihood of developing cancer. Research scientists have been able to identify specific genes that appear to actively suppress the formation of tumors. If a person inherits a version of any of these genes that does not suppress tumors as well, they may be at risk for developing cancer just by virtue of heredity. Specific genes have been identified for their involvement in breast cancer, ovarian cancer, retinoblastoma (eye), colon cancer, certain types of brain tumors, and many others.
The treatment of a cancer depends on where tumors are located, whether the cancerous growth is contained (or becoming invasive or spreading), and the overall physical health of the patient. Many times this is a balancing act between eliminating the cancer and keeping the patient strong enough to recover fully.
Cancerous tumors, even if they appear to be benign, may be removed surgically to avoid the risk of becoming invasive and spreading throughout the body. Even if the edges of the removed tissues appear to be clear of any signs of metastasis, it is a good idea for frequent follow-ups to be performed to ensure that cancerous growths are not developing near the removed tissues or elsewhere in the body. In some cases, much of the surrounding tissues will also be removed to reduce the risk of further cancers. Some women elect to undergo mastectomies for breast cancer, for example, to avoid a recurrence of tumor growth.
Radiation therapy can also help assist in the killing of cancer cells. By exposing these cells to doses of ionizing radiation, their DNA is destroyed such that they can no longer divide. Radiation treatment may also shrink larger tumors to aid in safe removal. Many times, the surrounding tissues are also damaged by these treatments, but are usually capable of recovering. Chemotherapy is another common treatment, in which patients take drugs that specifically target rapidly dividing cells. In addition to killing cancer cells, chemotherapy treatments will also target other rapidly dividing cells, such as those in the hair follicles and stomach lining. These healthy cells will eventually replace themselves, though their loss causes some of the side effects common to chemotherapy (hair loss, vomiting, diarrhea, etc). Some tumors are also hormone sensitive, so hormone therapies may prove effective in controlling tumor growth. Breast cancers and prostate cancers, for example, may be treated in part by blocking estrogen or testosterone. There are also drugs designed to target angiogenesis, the process by which tumors redirect blood vessels to help nourish tumor growth.