Cancer is second only to heart disease as the cause of death
We use the word cancer to describe over 100 different diseases—it is the uncontrolled growth of cells that may spread to distant sites. It is thought that cancers arise from genetic mutations or the dysfunction of genes that control growth and maturation (differentiation) of cells.
In the US, cancer is second only to heart disease as the cause of death. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 616,000 people died of heart disease and 560, 000 people died of cancer in 2007. Chronic respiratory diseases and accidental deaths are listed as the 3rd and 4th major causes. By some methods of looking at the statistics, medical errors is the 3rd leading cause of deaths—these are accidental deaths due to unnecessary surgery, errors in medication or adverse reactions to medication. This is an important point, because the drugs used to treat cancer, while often effective—can have serious and possible deadly adverse effects. The result of the use of some of these drugs, eradicating the cancer, may be worth the risk, but it is a risk, and patients should be informed of that risk so that they can weigh the benefit in their own lives.
Most cancers occur in those over 60, but can occur in anyone at any age. The most common cancers are those of the skin, lung, colon, breast, prostate, kidneys, ovaries, uterus, pancreas, bladder, rectum, and blood and lymph node cancer (leukemias and lymphomas).
Cancer is a number of diseases with many different causes
We still don’t understand what causes cancer, even after years of research, billions of dollars and millions of deaths. Partly, that’s because cancer is not just one disease—it is a number of diseases with many different causes. Another reason is that there is rarely just one cause of any single cancer. The body has built into it many “safeguards” to monitor and protect against the overgrowth of cells. The thinking is that a cell becomes a cancer cell because it takes too many “hits” and the normal control mechanisms are overwhelmed.
These normal control mechanisms include a healthy immune system and healthy excretory functions—known in naturopathic medicine as “emunctories”. Keeping the emunctories—the organs of excretion—clear and functioning is one of the main goals of any naturopathic treatment, including the prevention and treatment of cancer. The emunctories include the kidney, bowels, lungs, skin, liver and lymphatic systems. Part of this approach means a healthy lifestyle, minimizing non-organic foods and materials, maintaining body weight, exercising, avoiding smoke, alcohol and drugs, drinking lots of pure water and eating a healthy, well—rounded, nutritional diet. Part of this approach also means having a healthy attitude, minimizing stress, surrounding yourself with people you love and who love you, making good choices, choosing safe sexual practices and accepting responsibility for bad choices. This is the Mind-Body medicine aspect of cancer prevention and cancer treatment—one that has recently been recognized to play an important role.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently predicted a 50% increase by 2020 in cancer rates globally. This is not hysteria or scare tactics—it is essentially a statistical and mathematical prediction. The pie graph in Figure 2, for example, shows that deaths due to cancer increased from 1975 to 2007 and is an indication that the rates of cancer are increasing.
Cancer prevention with nutrition and lifestyle
Naturopathic physicians work with you to prevent cancer. One of the main ways to prevent cancer is by diet, nutrition and lifestyle. Over 1/3 of cancers can be prevented in this way. Avoid smoking, drinking, soft drinks and drugs. Drink plenty of pure water. Exercise and minimize stress. The following Anti-Cancer Food Pyramid can be followed as a dietary guideline.
What does naturopathic medicine have to offer for treatment of cancer? Most often, though not always, it is a therapy of support of the immune system and the detoxification mechanisms of the body, supporting a positive mind-body attitude and strengthening overall health. Recent studies have shown that patients with these in place do better when nutrition is included in the treatment plan.
Increasingly, studies are showing that the supplement support offered by naturopathic medicine not only does not harm, as was often previously argued, but actually increases the health of the patient and increases the effectiveness of the treatment, both radiation and chemotherapy AND allows lower doses of conventional drug and radiation treatment to be applied.
Who is the naturopathic oncologist?
There is a specialty within naturopathic medicine, the naturopathic oncologist. These naturopaths go through rigorous training and a certification process in order to guide patients through the often confusing Internet sites, information offered by friends and family and emotional trauma of getting the cancer diagnosis. They are also specially trained to provide the alternative treatments such as IV chelation therapy, high dose IV Vitamin C therapy, hyperthermia treatments, specialized botanical medicines, acupuncture and homeopathy. A number of other different approaches exist as well.
- IV therapy: An intravenous solution is placed directly into the patient’s veins. Chelation therapy removes heavy metals and toxins while high dose IV Vitamin C provides the high-potency anti-oxidant which is thought to help kill off tumor cells.
- Hyperthermia uses locally or systemically applied heat to kill tumor cells.
- Potent botanical medicines exist that can directly kill cancer cells. This is actually well known to the pharmacological industry, but, because natural products cannot be patented, and the prevailing belief is that “we can make it better” means than natural products are chemically altered for use as drugs. Examples of this are:
- Podophyllotoxin (from the American Mayapple) and the anti-cancer drug Etoposide
- Taxol, (from the Taxus brevifolia, the Pacific yew) and the anti-cancer drug Paclitaxel
- Vinblastine and Vincristine derived from Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle) are used to treat leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease.
- Papaverine (from the Papaver or opium plant) and the drugs opium, morphine and morphine derivatives such as heroin and oxycodone.
- Digitoxin, (from the Digitalis or Foxglove) and digitalis, a heart drug.
- Reserpine, (from the Rauwolfia) used as sedative and tranquilizer.
- Quinine and quinidine (from the Cinchona plant) still used to treat malaria
- Ergot (from the fungus Claviceps purpurea found on rye plants) provides ergotamine, still used to treat migraines and, historically, to induce labor.
Many of the herbs used in the treatment of cancer are directed against the inflammatory process, common to many conditions. Inflammation is a natural and normal response to cancer and other conditions. It can, however, become a problem long term—using up the body’s metabolic energy and actually weakening the immune system. When inflammation is reduced, the body’s energy can be directed towards the cancer cells and strengthening the immune system.
- Acupuncture can be used to treat pain and nausea associated with chemotherapy and radiation . It is also being investigated in the treatment of hot flashes, fatigue and other symptoms.
- Homeopathy is a two century old approach to disease based on the principle of “like cures like”. Extremely dilute amounts of remedies are given based on highly individualized symptoms and characteristics.
- One of the most important recommendations in treating cancer is to understand your options and what you believe is most important in your life. You need to decide whether you want to use only alternative treatments or a combination of conventional treatment along with naturopathic care. This is something only you can decide!