Cancer is a frightening disease, and no matter how skilled the physician, breaking the diagnosis to a patient, always creates an almost paralysing shock which leaves many questions and concerns unanswered. In this brief review, I will attempt to address some of the more common concerns and suggest some of the many approaches a cancer patient can take on his or her journey. Remember it is your body and you have the right to make decisions on how you wish to be treated.
I have written a number of books and booklets to help cancer patients, some of them free, and these are available on this site.
Description: Cancer remains one of the most feared of all diseases, the incidence is increasing, and until recently, apart from some specific cancers, we were not making huge inroads with conventional medical treatments. However the advance of 'targeted' therapies has shown a huge but expensive growth in successful management of many cancers. Now, with a comprehensive and complete approach, including the best of medicine, optimal nutrition, exercise, mind body medicine and other approaches,the story is very different, people are living much longer with quality, and so called 'miracle' cures are by no means unusual.
These notes will be of necessity very brief, and we would encourage you to read our book "Cancer - A threat to your life? or a chance to take control of your future?" . This can be purchased as an Ebook - click here. We also have a recording of the first few chapters of the book which you can download and listen to click here. We have also written a shorter and more specific booklet - "An all inclusive approach to treating cancer" which will cover many of the topics discussed below and others, in much greater detail. This can be downloaded free click here .
Cancer is a group of diseases where the body cells begin to multiply out of control, causing damage where they originate, and can spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body. It can affect most cells of the body and different cancers have different causes and treatment. Prevention, diagnosis and specific treatments are covered best in our books (above) but there are many approaches which apply to most cancers.
What doctors can do
- Surgery: to remove the cancer which can sometimes be curative, or debulk it (make it smaller).
- Chemotherapy: to kill as much of the cancer as possible. Unfortunately, chemotherapy often also damage normal healthy cells as well, and has many side effects. There are the traditional chemotherapy drugs which affect all dividing cells, and as cancer cells are dividing the fastest, they are most affected. More recently more Targetted chemotherapy has improved both the success rate and reduced the side effects - these include hormonal therapies, monoclonal antibodies, immunotherapy, and specific drugs which attack cancer cells more specifically, - these are being used for a number of cancers including myeloma, melanoma, breast cancer, lymphoma and prostate cancers, and the number is increasing. Vaccines are also being developed which enable the body to identify the cancer cells as bad, and encourage our immune systems to attack them. Unfortunately many of these new therapies are extremely expensive (because of the cost of development and also targeting means that they will only be effective in fewer selected patients).
As most people are aware, chemotherapy (and radiotherapy) does have significant side effects which can make life miserable. I have written a booklet on how to help cope with the side effects of chemotherapy titled "Coping with Chemo" which you are welcome to download click here.
Discuss with your oncologist the value of any chemotherapy he or she is advising, what he/she is trying to be achieved, the chances of success and likely side effects and outcome.
With the rapid advances in this science, it is likely that in the not too distant future a 'cure' or much better understanding of cancer will be reached, and we will look at this dreaded disease much as we now look at infections which terrified our great grandparent's generations.
- Radiotherapy: uses radiation to selectively damage the cancer cells, although nearby normal cells can also be damaged.
- Pain relief - this is discussed at the bottom of this page
These treatments reduce the overall cancer load, and so with helpful complementary treatments, the immune system has a better chance of beating the remaining cancer cells.
What you can do
- Have a positive confident attitude towards your recovery – this is very important. Believe you can and will recover and plan for an exciting future. Peace, forgiveness, relaxation, meditation provides a mind which can allow the body to heal itself as best it can.
- Have a good diet- almost 40% of cancer patients die of malnutrition, not from the cancer; so good food and supplements are essential. It is best that the food be organic, spray free and healthy, but many people with cancer have no appetite, so in some cases it is best to eat what they would like to eat, even if it is not necessarily part of a 'healthy' list. Nutrition and energy are absolutely essential. There is now increasing evidence that the very low sugar diets (Keto) where the cancer cells are starved of glucose are probably the best and most effective diet. I have written a booklet on this topic which you are welcome to download free click here
- Make the body inhospitable to cancer cells – keep the body as alkaline as possible and maintain a low blood sugar level by eating mainly low glycemic foods. (Cancer cells mainly use sugars as their energy source, so low sugar levels starve the cancer)
- Eat no sugars, in fact almost fast on the day of chemotherapy. The cancer cells want sugars and if they are not available, they avidly gobble up the chemo drugs; so if you can eat only fatty foods and proteins on the chemo day, it may make the chemo more effective, and as more goes into the cancer cells, may make the side effects less. (note this has not been proven with studies, but is very logical. ) There is increasing evidence that high fructose corn syrup is absorbed by gut cancer cells and may well make gastric, and bowel cancers worse. Avoid this as much as you can.
- Type of diet is very important to keep the body strong, help the immune system to fight the cancer cells and 'starve' the cancer cells. Eliminate as much as possible all sugars, white flour products and processed foods. Limit red meats and try to eat organic and as much raw food as possible ( vegetables and nuts). Many people find smoothies and shakes are easier to drink than solid foods. Ginger ale is also a good drink for people with nausea, replacing fluid and reducing nausea.
- Wearing a bra may increase the risk of developing breast cancer. This is well discussed in this article, but essentially toxins are stored in the fatty tissue, the bra allows high-pressure blood to enter the breast containing toxins, but the toxins drain out through low-pressure lymphatics which can be blocked by a bra. The answer is to wear your bra for as short a time as possible. .
- A good multivitamin/multimineral to ensure that immune cells have all the nutrients and minerals required to function perfectly and fight the cancer. A top range multi is essential. Cancer cells soak up nutrition and many cancer patients die not from cancer but malnutrition, so eat as well as you can but take a top quality multi to give the body immune system the nutrients it needs to fight the cancer.
- Selenium (150–200ug/day) has a powerful anti-cancer action, especially in those countries where the soil selenium levels are low. It has been shown to reduce the development of many cancers (click here) and is likely to help the body fight cancer as well.
- High levels of vitamin C (4–6 grams daily) to fight the cancer cells and strengthen the collagen fibres between the cells to slow the cancer cell spread. Do not take high levels of vitamin C during chemo or radiotherapy, just the amount found in a good multi, as it may reduce some of the treatment's effects.
- High levels of vitamin D are now being accepted as essential to prevent and also treat cancer. The recommended dose is 5 - 10,000iu daily, but note some cancers can raise the calcium level in the blood, so get your doctor to check the calcium levels occasionally. (Vitamin D seems to have many beneficial actions, including turning the genes on and off when required. Low D levels are present in many diseases and it does seem important to have adequate levels all year round). Whether vitamin D can help switch on or off cancer cells we do not know, but of all the supplements and alternative treatments in patients with cancer, I would put vitamin D first.
- Omega 3 fish oils, 1–2 grams daily. These are very important for the immune system which fights the cancer.
- Melatonin (10–40mg/day). This hormone from the pineal gland helps us sleep and has a powerful anti cancer effect. In a review of ten randomised trials involving 643 cancer patients, patients given melatonin in high doses (10-40mg at night) reduced their risk of death at 1 year by 34%.
- Turmeric (curcumin) - this is a very powerful supplement which is beneficial for many diseases including cancer. It affects cytokines which control the immune system and appear to damage the cancer stem cells from which the cancer originates. Most chemo drugs affect cancer cells, but not the stem cells, which is why many cancers recur. Tumeric targets the stem cells and so can work in conjunction with the other treatments.
- Milk Thistly (silymarin) - there is a lot of interest in this herb which has a number of anti cancer actions , including suppressing cell signalling pathways necessary for cancer cells to grow, invade and spread. It appears to help with chemo and radiotherapy and seems to be helpful in many other conditions.
- Mushrooms - shitake and reishi are claimed also to have strong anti-cancer actions.
mTOR inhibitors from fruit and vegetable phytonutrients - Cells in the body age and need to be replaced, as do organelles inside of the cells (eg mitochondria). When we are exposed to starvation, nutrient supply, stress, need for cellular energy etc, mTOR switches on and off, encouraging the cells to multiply or stay as they are. This is still a young science, but it appears that many diseases varying from cancer (due to cells multiplying out of control, to ageing (cells not being replaced) are affected by mTOR. Some cancer drugs like rapamycin are being used to inhibit mTOR and stop cancer cells from growing. What switches mTOR on and off is part of a frantic research effort, and could make a huge effect on cancer both prevention and treatment. However, we do know that some phytonutrients (compounds from plants) help in the signalling process to switch mTOR on and off. People who live in areas where they eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables all year round, have a very low incidence of cancer and other mTOR derived diseases. Unfortunately for most of us quality and fresh, fruits and vegetables 365 days per year is not possible. This is why we recommend people who are taking nutritional supplements should consider taking the USANA Cellcentials which contain many of these phytonutrients in a patented preparation (see below), as well as of course eating as much in the way of fruit and vegetables as they can. Will it help with cancer patients? We won't know for many years till people do trials (if they ever do trials, because they are not drugs so the industry is not interested). In the meantime it seems a very simple and possibly highly beneficial way of providing the body with nutrients and perhaps a lot more.
Intravenous vitamin C in high doses of about 40-60 grams given intravenously, Vitamin C can have a very powerful chemotherapy-like action, but without the toxic side effects. I do not believe it should be given at the same time as chemo or radiotherapy (it may reduce their effectiveness), but before, between and after therapy it can be very beneficial click here.
Detoxification - cancer cells breaking down and the normal cells being damaged by the cancer release toxins which affect the immune system and also make the patient feel toxic. Many toxins are metabilised in the liver and then sent into the gut in the bile to be excreted. The liver may need additional compounds to help in the detox process, and also if the bowel moves sluggishly, then the toxins can be reabsorbed back into the blood stream. So take a regular liver tonic, plenty of fibre (maybe fibre drinks if the appetite is poor) and some people benefit from colonic irrigation (but make sure it is done by a competent practitioner).
Low dose Naltrexone - Naltrexone is a drug used to help people with drug and alcohol addiction, but in low doses (LDN) it affects cancer cell growth and proliferation via the OGF-OGFr pathways (click here for a 5 minute description of how it works. It also shows why the drug should be given intermittently and why long acting LDN does nit work) . Little research has been done with this drug, but well-respected cancer doctors around the world have been using it and achieve in some cases spectacular results. A good review from doctors in st Georges hospital London (click here) shows its effects. Your doctor will know little about this treatment, it is best used with vitamin D and other cancer therapies (it seems to add to the effects of chemo or complementary therapies). I think this seems to be a very promising therapy and will attach more information as it comes to hand, and in most countries it needs to be prescribed by a doctor. Note because it is used to inhibit the effects of opiods, it will interfer with the effects of morphine and codeine type drugs. They may also affect the benefits of LDN.
Body/mind/spirit/energy therapies – most people appreciate that a person with a positive outlook and happy disposition is much more likely to overcome a disease than those who turn their faces to the wall. When we consider that the atoms that make up our bodies are actually spinning energy particles (electrons, quarks, leptons, bosons, neutrinos….), then it is obvious that energy can affect our bodies. Some therapies (Acupuncture, Reiki, Healing Touch, Rife, multiwave oscillators, PEMF machines and others…) address these directly, and there are many simple, safe and beneficial ways of improving the energy round out bodies. These include looking positively, forgiving events of the past, loving, hugging, meditation, prayer, listening to good uplifting music or TV programmes, Tai chi, hypnosis, massage, aroma therapy. Accept the support and love of others. Studies have shown that positive thoughts, prayers, love and concern can travel around the world and lead to beneficial outcomes. We don’t understand it, but then there are many things we don’t understand. Just accept it as another implement in your recovery – possibly the most powerful tool.
Even though patients are frequently tired with little energy, some exercise is beneficial both mentally, physically and often spiritually. Go for a walk in a forest, park, beach or other uplifting areas. Breath deeply and improve the oxygenation of the tissues (and cancer cells do not like oxygen).
Gerson therapy — the mainsytay of this treatment protocol is a low sodium, high potassium, lactovegetarian diet that emphasizes fresh vegetables, fruit juices, and vitamin supplements. This does seem to be a sensible additional approach, but there is little concrete evidence that it works alone.
Gonzalez treatment regimen - for patients with pancreatic cancer and consists of a program of dietary restriction, intake of digestive aids (eg, pepsin and pancreatic enzymes), and a "detoxification" regimen that includes frequent coffee enemas. One study did suggest an increase in life expectancy (months) and more trials are in progress.
Green tea — Green tea is derived from the plant Camellia sinensis, and contains a number of biologically active polyphenols, and there is some evidence they may be helpful in patients with prostate and ovarian cancers. However they can also interfer with some chemotherapy and so you need to discuss this with your oncologist before drinking s lot of green tea. One of the drugs for myeloma (bortezamib) is inhibited by green tea so should not be used in these patients.
Mistletoe — Mistletoe extracts (Iscador, Helixor) contain various lectins and viscotoxins . Evidence from in vitro experiments and animal models suggests that these components have some anticancer activity. There have been many studies on this some positive and others show no benefit, but in many there does seem to be some benefit, and it may also improve quality of life.
The management of pain in Cancer patients
Pain is very common in the cancer population. Most patients experience episodes of acute or chronic pain, due either to the underlying cancer or the treatment of this. Because of the reluctance to prescribe the more powerful drugs, sometimes poor medical practitioner education and also underreporting of pain by stoic patients, and a significant number of people (about 30%) do not receive adequate pain control. It is important for the health practitioner to be aware of this.
Since the early 1980s, the worldwide consensus considers that opioid based drugs should be the mainstay for cancer patients with active disease and moderate to severe pain. If possible disease modifying treatments such as localised radiotherapy, surgery, and sometimes chemotherapy can also help reduce pain.
The WHO recommended pain ladder is:
1. Mild pain – non-opioid (paracetamol, aspirin, NSAID) + adjuvant
2. Mild to moderate pain – non-opioid as above, plus opioid (codeine, tramadol etc.) + adjuvant
3. Moderate to severe pain - non-opioid as above, plus morphine, fentanyl + adjuvant
Analgesic adjuvants are frequently given with opiates and other drugs as above, and can dramatically improve the pain response and reduce the need for higher doses of drugs.
- Glucocorticoids (dexamethasone) can be beneficial in reducing pain from many causes, and can also alleviate nausea, fatigue anorexia and malaise.
- Antidepressants (amitriptyline, nortriptyline, duloxetine, milnacipran, venlafaxine) – these are usually used for nerve pain, however in many cases they are used for other forms of pain as well. These do appear to have an anti-pain as well as antidepressant action.
- Cannabis and cannabinoids – despite the fact that they are far less toxic and dangerous than many, in fact most of the drugs used to treat cancer, there is a political resistance to making this therapy freely available. The marijuana plant contains over 400 compounds including more than 60 cannabinoids including THC which is known to affect multiple receptors in the peripheral and central nervous system. To quote the medical Bible 'Up to date', "the available data from controlled trials suggest that these compounds as well as smoked cannabis may be useful as multipurpose analgesics and also in palliative populations"
- Drugs for neuropathic pain (gabapentin, pregabalin, carbamazepine, lamotrigine
- Bisphosphonates for patients with metastatic bone disease.
The Nutritional supplements I use and recommend to my patients
For my Cancer patients I recommend the following supplements -
USANA - Cellsentials * , Biomega, Active Calcium Plus, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Coquinone (for fatigue), Hepa Plus (for detoxification and also for the milk thistle it contains), Proglucamune, Probiotic and also Fibre shakes -
Turmeric - Curcumin (tumeric) - Curcugel Obtain in NZ from John Appleton
Melatonin - in some countries this is only available on prescription.
Other therapiesThere are a number of other therapies which you might like to look at. They have not been specifically included with this disease because some are a form of treatment which is applicable to most diseases and many focus on the mind, body, spirit, and the universe. These include - acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, energy healing, homeopathy, naturopathy, prayer, visualisation and some people with this condition might like to look at these topics (I have described them more fully on another page on this website click here .) With my personal experience and reading, I do not think that I can comment of whether one or a number of these might help. They fit well with most conventional and complementary treatments and I suspect some or even all of them can be extremely powerful - if performed by an experienced practitioner. My only caveat is that if in the course of one of these therapies, you are given potions or herbs, do check with your health practitioner that they will not interfere with other treatments or drugs you are receiving.
Nutritional supplementsI believe in today's world that nutritional supplements are so necessary as to be an essential component of any form of both prevention and treatment. Not only is today's food lacking in nutrients because of the way it was grown and processed, but also most of us make the wrong choices in diet. It is virtually impossible to obtain optimal levels of most of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients although many people try to do so, and even then fresh produce is not available all year round. *There are many quality supplements available on the market, including –Thorne, NFS, Douglas Labs, Xtend Life, True Star Health, USANA, and Metagenics. There are others, but do your due diligence before choosing one. USANA Health Sciences has added a new adjunct to its multivitamin and multi mineral called CellSentials. These are a patented blend of phyto-nutrients which they believe affects cell signaling and growth, and increases the production of preventative antioxidants within the cell. These should add to the value of the multi, so these are the multivitamin/mineral preparation I recommend.