Those of us who work with cancer patients, we wish cancer was not so common – not so daunting, not so overwhelming and scary. But the reality is that there is a desperate need for accurate information, trustworthy information, and even more urgent desire for a cure and, ultimately, an ironclad prevention plan. In this article my aim is to deliver informed hope, not false hope. The goal is to present information on integrative cancer prevention and treatment in a practical and useful manner so you will be able to make informed decisions based on your specific circumstances and comfort level. You have choices. Many researchers believe that the best way to treat cancer is using a multidimensional approach, many of which are mentioned in this article. Do not underestimate the power of lifestyle changes and proper diet they have been proven to be key factors in treating cancer and many other illnesses.
Accurate information is power.
There is a lot to be gained from accurate and trusted information. Research shows that, “informed patients reported significantly higher levels of hope than those who were not informed.” Unfortunately trying to get the right information can be difficult and frustrating. Integrative oncology, which is the term now used to describe complementary and alternative medicine to treat cancer – it can be described as the responsible blending of applicable traditional, supplemental and alternative healing methods with appropriate conventional medical tools. Integrative oncology takes advantage of the body’s own capacity for self-healing. An integrative approach will bolster the patients’ own internal defenses and help ease the side effects of conventional cancer treatments.
Healing from cancer requires a mind-body-spirit approach.
There is clear and abundant scientific evidence and information on the safety and effectiveness of diet lifestyle, nutrients and herbs for use in the cancer prevention and treatment. People heal each other in very simple ways by listening, accepting, caring and, understanding.
Some cancer survivors have defined cancer treatment success as:
• Accepting and embracing positive and negative emotions with love and non-judgement so that we can enjoy the journey no matter where we are on the path.
• Enhancing quality of life – physically, mentally, and spiritually – by connecting the mind, body and spirit in order to grow and gain peace. We all have been giving a set amount of time on this earth, our goal should be to love in peace, love and harmony with those around us.
• Cancer success comes in the form of realization, personalization, contentment, and grace which cannot be measured by any human tool. Regardless of physical outcome, these measures of success are embedded in one’s heart and soul.
Cancer patients and their loved ones are fighting a multidimensional battle against a mammoth opponent. We understand the overwhelming issues that accompany a cancer diagnosis. The key to cancer success is to get as much information as possible from as many sources as possible.
Conventional treatments of cancer.
Every person diagnosed with cancer deserves to have all possible treatments available to them – conventional and complimentary alike. The most successful approach to cancer control is the prevention of cancer.
There are five major classes of chemotherapy drugs.
• Alkylating agents. They bind to DNA in cancerous cells, preventing the DNA from dividing.
• Antimetabolites. They replace nutrients needed for DNA synthesis with inactive substances, thus preventing cellular division.
• Antitumor antibiotics. They generate activated oxygen free radicals, which prevent DNA from uncoiling and can cause DNA breaks and eventual cell death.
• Hormonal drugs. Block hormone activity within cells to stop cancer growth signalling pathways.
• Plant alkaloids. Interfere with the architecture within the cell, thus preventing the cell from dividing.
Chemotherapy drugs are so toxic that other drugs are used to offset their side effects. Keep in mind that chemotherapy agents do their work on cancer cells as well as on healthy cells. Chemotherapy drugs may be combined with one or more other drugs for a synergistic effect or to create a different profile of side effects. These chemotherapy cocktails may be well tolerated with minimal side effects, or they can be difficult to endure and produce considerable side effects. Patients receiving chemotherapy can feel much worse during treatment than they did with the cancer alone.
It is becoming more common for cancer patients to receive targeted drugs with their chemotherapy regimen. Unlike older chemotherapy drugs, the actions of targeted drugs focus on specific structures or activities that are more prominent in cancer cells. The goal of targeted drugs is to promote tumor cell death with fewer effects on healthy cells. Some patients feel better while on chemotherapy because their tumor burden is decrease, which then decreases some of the symptoms caused by the cancer, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Chemotherapy deliver in smaller doses over a longer period of time is just as effective and easier – relatively speaking – on the patient than one massive dose. However, adverse side effects are always expected.
Screening and detection
Not knowing does not make something go away; rather the more knowledge we have about something, the more options and, ultimately, control you have to shape the outcome. In most cases, cancer takes years or even decades to develop into a tumor that is detectable by conventional diagnostic tests. Early detection enhances survival and addresses quality of life issues. If you have a family history of cancer screening can be a crucial tool to enhance your chances of success. If you are a smoker quitting smoking can be the most important thing you can do prevent some forms of cancer and also prevent coronary artery disease. If you drink alcohol reducing your alcohol consumption can significantly reduce your chances of getting some types of cancers such as cancer of the liver.
Top ten ways to prevent cancer and enhance your health.
• Eat more fruits and fresh vegetables, at least five servings daily.
• Exercise for a minimum of thirty minutes four times per week and then increase the amount as you are able to.
• Obtain adequate sleep, for most people at least eight hours nightly.
• Practice some form of stress reduction such as yoga, meditation.
• Eat organic whenever possible. An organic supplement is highly recommended.
• Drink more water (preferably purified), and green tea. Green tea has been found to contain chemicals that help to fight off cancer.
• Avoid or reduce your consumption of alcohol, sodium, and excess fat. Quit smoking.
• Avoid or reduce your exposure to toxins.
• Love yourself and those around you.
• Communicate clearly, openly, and honestly.
The power of food.
The kind of food eaten has nearly as big an impact on health as the amount – and sometimes more. In fact, much of the malnutrition in the world can be attributed to unhealthy food or consumption of “empty calories.” Though it may seem surprising, many obese individuals are actually significantly malnourished. Foods have both the power to harm and the power to heal. Some foods contain significant nutrients that help keep your body healthy and operating at peak capacity. Eating a healthy diet will give you the fuel you need to maintain and active pace and prevent illnesses, including cancer.
Cancer fighting foods include:
• Tomatoes – contain the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which supports a strong immune system.
• Whole grains contain ligans that positively influence hormonal activity.
• Citrus fruits contain flavanoids that enhance immunity.
• Soy contains certain sterols that can reduce the development of some cancer cells.
• Broccoli contains sulforaphane and other compounds that help stimulate detoxification and immunity.
• Cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, contain indole-3-carbinol, which has been shown to have anticancer properties.
• The peel of an apple contains phenolic compounds that help prevent unhealthy cells from dividing and spreading. The old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” has some real truth in it.
• Kale is high in vitamin A and C, as well as fiber, which are all perfect nutrients to help prevent cancer.
• Garlic contains several key components that inhibit the activity of cancer cells and help with detoxification.
Alternative treatment options for cancer.
The alternative treatments are already in widespread use and the public believes in them. Studies have demonstrated that 36% of the U.S. population uses some form of alternative therapy to stay healthy or treat illness. People believe in these treatments because they are getting results. In terms on cancer patients, people using alternative therapies such as using organic products, and natural supplements reported an improved sense of wellbeing. A recent survey of female cancer patients found that they often use alternative therapies to reduce psychological distress, physical symptoms of cancer, and side effects of conventional therapies. A survey performed by researchers of the University of Manchester in England, found that the use of herbal medicines among cancer patients tripled after diagnosis.
The domains or categories of therapies are as follows:
• Biologically based practices – which focus on use of herbs, supplements, and foods.
• Mind-body medicine which includes support groups, prayer, and meditation.
• Manipulative and body-based approaches such as massage, chiropractic, and the like.
• Energy medicine such as Qigong, Reiki, and use of magnets.
• Alternative medical systems which are complete systems of theory and practice.
A look at selected alternative therapies to treat cancer.
Some believe that the only way to truly heal cancer is to use a comprehensive, multidimensional approach. Cancer is a complex illness, and treatment success is enhanced by supporting all aspects of the patient’s health and wellbeing. Never discontinue any medications or treatments without first discussing your options with your doctor.
Acupuncture: This is a form of traditional medicine that originated in China more that 5,000 years ago. The premise of acupuncture is that health is determined by the balance of vital energy called qi (pronounced “Chi”), which flows along 12 major pathways in the body, called meridians, and that those pathways are linked to major organs. Studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can relieve pain and help restore overall health.
Biofeedback: Using electronic devices, biofeedback monitors certain bodily processes such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure and conveys this information to the person to help them learn to consciously influence those systems. Biofeedback can help ease headaches, control asthma attacks, and recondition injured muscles. In regard to cancer, biofeedback can help reduce stress and anxiety and relieve pain associated with the cancer or conventional cancer treatment.
Constitutional medicine: These healing systems begin by determining the person’s constitution – their strengths, susceptibilities, metabolic status, or predisposition toward certain conditions. Examples of constitutional medicine include Ayuverda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Tibetan Medicine. The focus of constitutional medicine is on helping the person achieve and maintain balance in accordance with their constitutional type. In these systems, internal harmony results in physical, emotional, and spiritual good health.
Creativity: Many innovative researchers are confirming that creative endeavors enhance a positive connection between mind and body. In addition, creativity is believed to stimulate immune activity and help reduce the damaging effects of stress. Creative activities that can promote physical and emotional health include art, music, and writing (especially journaling). I have heard of some cancer patients who have written journals with messages for their children and grandchildren to be read on special occasions such as graduation, weddings, anniversaries, and so on.
Detoxification: The body has systems in place to break down and eliminate harmful substances, a process known as detoxification. Detoxification therapies assist the body in eliminating or neutralizing toxins. Some practitioners believe that detoxification has significant impact on health and disease. “The process of detoxification through special cleansing diets as well as water and juice fast, is the missing link of rejuvenating the body and preventing such chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, and obesity,” says Elson Haas, MD, director of Preventative Medical Center of Marin. Detoxification methods include special diets, fasting, colon therapy, liver flushing, chelation, high-dose Vitamin C, and hyperthermia.
Diet and Nutrition: Utilizing diet and nutrition to prevent and treat illness should be the cornerstone of any health-promoting plan. The healing power of foods has been borne out numerous scientific studies, and there is no question that some foods can heal and some can harm. Tipping the scales in favor of healing foods and health promoting nutrition plan is the goal of diet and nutrition therapy.
Heat therapy: Also known as hyperthermia, heat therapy artificially rises the body’s temperature to help alleviate infection, inflammation, or other health conditions. Raising the body’s temperature above 98.6 F stimulates the release of pyrogens (from bacteria), which in turn, mobilize immune cells. In addition, localized hyperthermia treatment may be used to increase circulation of blood and lymph fluid in specific areas, without inducing a change in core temperature.
Herbal remedies. Also referred to as Botanical Medicine or Phytotherapy, herbal medicine has been used throughout history to promote health and prevent or cure illness. Many pharmaceutical drugs originate from medicinal herbs, and those drugs are often used in ways that correspond with their use in Native cultures where they originated. Plants can have a mild effect or pronounced activity depending on the herbs used, whether they are used alone or in combination, and the form in which they are used. Because botanical medicine can have far reaching effects, research in this field is expanding rapidly. Nutrients and herbs can compliment conventional cancer therapies, alleviate side effects of treatment, and even assist in directly treating the cancer. Research into these substances is increasing, and it seems that every week the media offer us promising new information about how different nutrients and herbs can help prevent or treat cancer. Buyer be aware that not everything that is on TV or the internet is necessarily true. Inform yourself well before making any decisions about any products and always consult with your doctor particularly if you are already receiving treatment.
Hydrotherapy: The therapeutic use of water in all forms dates back to the beginnings of civilization. Hydrotherapy can be defined as “the use of water, ice, steam, and hot and cold temperatures to maintain and restore health.” It is believed that hot water can stimulate the immune system and help detoxify the body by releasing heat and cold water-soluble toxins via sweat. Cold water is used therapeutically to relieve inflammation. Contrasting the two therapies is believed to reduce inflammation and pain and help with digestion.
Meditation: This mind-body technique is designed to produce a calm, relaxed, nonreactive state of mind. Many mind-body experts believe that meditation allows for greater awareness and clarity by the anchoring the person in the present moment. It can also help alleviate symptoms of stress, anger, fear, anxiety, and depression. There are a variety of ways to meditate, but most methods fall in two categories: concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation. Concentrative meditation focuses on breath, an image, or a mantra in order to still the mind. Mindfulness meditation involves turning off the mind’s internal dialogue and simply receiving whatever exist in the environment without judgement. When distracting thoughts, memories, worries, or images arise, the person simply witnesses them without reacting to them or becoming involved with them.
Movement: Aerobic and anaerobic exercise, yoga, Tai Chi, and dance are all considered movement therapies. Decades of research have confirmed that exercise is a powerful health intervention. The health-promoting and illness-preventing benefits of exercise are endorsed by the National Institute of Health, The American Medical Association, and the Surgeon General. Medical experts say that exercise “has the documented effect of reducing all forms of illness,” including high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, some cancers, insomnia, and chronic pain to name a few. Aerobic exercise consists of activities that raise the heart rate and respiration rate, whereas anaerobic exercise focuses on muscle strengthening. Scientific documentation of the health benefits of yoga, which combines both movement and meditation, is also increasing dramatically.
Naturopathic medicine: Naturopathic physicians are doctors trained to provide family health care and to emphasize the use of natural therapies to prevent and treat acute and chronic illness. Naturopathic medicine is used by people both as their primary health care and as complimentary health care. In addition to the basic medical sciences and conventional diagnostics, naturopathic education includes therapeutic nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, natural child birth, Classical Chinese Medicine Theory, hydrotherapy, Naturopathic manipulative therapy, pharmacology and minor office procedures.
Self-talk and visualization. Can we talk ourselves into being healthy? Experts in self-talk and visualization believe these activities can influence health. Preliminary research indicates that you can positively impact your health and possibly change the course of the disease by giving yourself positive self-images or practicing techniques such as guiding visualization. Blue Cross Blue Shield of California found that patients who used guided image tapes prior to surgery healed faster following a procedure. As we learn more about the connection between mind and body, self-talk and visualization techniques will likely become even more important to our healing process.
Supplements: Intended to augment the diet and compensate for any deficiencies or to stimulate certain naturally occurring bodily processes, dietary supplements consist of vitamins, minerals, herbs, herbal extracts, or other nutrients. They may contain either a single nutrient or a combination and are sold over the counter and regulated as food items. Supplement programs can be design to promote overall wellbeing or support specific physiological systems, such as the cardiovascular system, or the immune system. In general, manufacturers are not allowed to make claims that their products can aid in the treatment of specific diseases.
Following a cancer diagnosis, many people feel compelled to go with conventional treatment over alternative therapies or vice versa. If they are not getting the results they expected, they may switch treatment modalities. Ideally, a person may get the most ideal results if they use an integrative approach from the start. Integrative medicine begins with prevention and continues into treatment and then restoration of health. An integrative approach to cancer management pulls all the tools from the toolbox – conventional and complimentary. If you choose conventional medicine, it is highly recommended you augment the treatment with a variety of complimentary strategies, including dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and appropriate supplements. These strategies can help reduce or alleviate harmful and painful side effects from conventional treatments and enhance your quality of life – and they may help extend it.
Changing our thinking regarding cancer diagnosis and treatment requires us to let go of preconceived notions, including giving too much power to the prognosis. When we shift our focus from cure to quality of life, we are more likely to embrace a broad range of ways to manage the illness. Swinging the pendulum toward quality of life through comprehensive care can help create the cure we ultimately hope for. It is an integrative view that encompasses mind, body, and spirit. Always remember that you have choices. When you use a multidimensional approach to treat cancer you are giving yourself the best chance of recovery. I wish you the best in your journey wherever you may be, live each day with passion not regret, fill your days with love not remorse or guilt. The best days of your life may yet be ahead of you.