Cancer has been present throughout human history. Egyptian and Inca mummies show evidence of the disorder. Greek physicians described it, and Hippocrates provided its name.
In North America in 1900, cancer was the eighth leading cause of death after pneumonia, tuberculosis, heart disease, stroke and assorted other conditions. In the last half of the 20th century, cancer has become the second leading cause of death. Equally astounding are the corresponding rises in domestic pet, wildlife and marine cancer.
Cancer has an impact on individuals, families and on society as a whole. At current rates, approximately 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer in their lifetimes. Cancer affects 2 of every 3 families in Canada.
An estimated 136,900 new cases of cancer and 66,200 deaths will occur in Canada in 2002. The most frequently diagnosed cancer will continue to be breast cancer for women and prostate cancer for men. Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death for both genders followed by colorectal cancer. In children, leukemia is the most common cancer, followed by cancers of the brain and spinal cord and lymphoma.
Cancer is primarily a disease of older Canadians with a majority of new cancer cases and deaths due to cancer occurring among those who are at least 60 years old. Cancer is the leading cause of premature death in Canada, being responsible for almost 30% of all potential years of life lost.
WHAT IS CANCER?
Cancer begins when a cell divides and multiplies uncontrollably without restraint. Eventually these cells form a visible mass or tumour. This initial tumour is called the “primary” tumour. Cells from the primary site can break off and lodge elsewhere in the body where they then grow into secondary tumours. This process is called “metastasis” and a cancer which is spread to other organs, is called “metastatic”. When cancer spreads to another organ, the type of cancer remains the type of the primary tumour. Thus cancer that started in the colon and spread to the liver is still colon cancer. It is not liver cancer.
THE CAUSES OF CANCER
The cause of cancer can be viewed from two perspectives; its molecular origins within individual cells and its external causes in terms of personal and community risks.
Fundamentally, cancer is a genetic disease resulting from mutations affecting genes that control normal cell function or from gene activity governing enzyme systems that either activitate or detoxify environmental carcinogens.
The growth of clinically apparent cancer from a single mutated cell is a slow process, typically involving a latency of 10-30 years in adult onset cancers. During that time, a succession of genetic and physiologic events is required for cancer to develop.
Cancer overall is not strongly heritable, however, more than 30 familial cancer syndromes have been documented and the responsible genes identified.
Estimates support that 75% or more of cancers are the result of environmental exposures. Environmental exposures encompass all influences arising outside the host; therefore they include the many carcinogenic exposures associated with personal lifestyle and behaviour in addition to those arising in the general community and in the work place. Dietary habits and tobacco use, by far the most important sources, account for 35-60% and 30-40% respectively, of all cancer deaths.
A wide variety of natural and manmade chemicals have carcinogenic potential or have firm evidence of causing human cancer. Consideration of carcinogenic chemicals is complicated further by the fact that most exposures are to mixtures of compounds.
Ionizing radiation from solar and cosmic rays, medical and dental applications and nuclear power, accounts for about 4-5% of all human cancer.
Several viruses of different types are now known to cause cancer or to play a role in its development. They include Epstein Barr herpes virus, human papilloma virus, Hepatitis B&C virus and HIV.
Hormones, sexual and reproductive lifestyle, occupational exposures, some pharmaceutical drugs, air, water and soil exposures, and electrical and magnetic fields are other factors known or implicated in causing cancer.
There have been some advances in cancer detection, prevention and treatment. Since the mid 1990′s, the overall cancer death rate has been steadily decreasing. Today, nearly half of all cancer patients can expect to live nearly 5 or more years after their diagnosis. Half full or half empty; the cup of progress against cancer is in the eyes of the beholder.
The basic conventional strategies for treating cancer, which includes surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, are the same now as they were 35 or more years ago. There have been some improvements in each area: surgery is less disfiguring, radiation more precise and the drugs more potent.
Surgery is the oldest form of cancer therapy. Cutting out or excising the tumour, wholly or partially, in order to remove or reduce the tumour burden is the goal of surgery. This is particularly applicable in early stage, non-metastatic cancer.
Radiation therapy injures cancer cells so that they can no longer multiply. This can be achieved via external beam, radioactive implants, or systemic administration of radioactive isotopes. Radiation is curative in some cancers by itself, combined with surgery and/or chemotherapy or is used as a palliative control of cancer when cure is not possible.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs or chemicals to destroy cancer cells by effecting cell DNA synthesis or function. A variety of categories of chemotherapy agents exist that are administered in different ways.
The ideal cancer therapy would target and destroy only cancer cells without adverse effects or toxicity on normal cells. Unfortunately, no such conventional treatment exists; there is a narrow therapeutic index between cell kill of cancer cells and that of normal cells.
Naturopathic Medicine views cancer as a local/regional manifestation of a systemic disorder. As stated earlier, most cancers take years to be fully realized with a multiplicity of factors involved in the initiation, promotion and progression of an obvious tumour. Ideally, more effort into searching for ways to prevent cancer so that treatment is never necessary must become a priority. Unfortunately, a majority of patients whom seek alternative treatment do so after the disease is already well manifested or when conventional treatments have failed or become intolerable.
Various philosophies exist in complementary healthcare about how cancer should be treated; some well based in science and experience and others not. Each individual patient must be dealt with in a customized manner taking into account the whole person and circumstances.
- Cytotoxic Therapies
An agent that is cytotoxic means that it can affect or destroy cells. Conventional chemotherapy is a good example. When a cancer has already formed and is identifiable, it must be eradicated or the potential for metastasis is high. At this point, preventative management is too late and intervention is required.
Many natural drugs are cytotoxic in a test tube but not so effective in the clinical setting. There are however, several agents that show great promise. The Austrian medicine Ukrain, which is a combination of the chelidonium plant and thiophosphoric acid, acts very much like a chemotherapy drug but with little side effects. A ginseng extract called Careseng has significant cytotoxic properties. Both must be given intravenously.
Insulin Potentiation Therapy utilizes either conventional or natural chemotherapeutics with insulin and sugar to increase the uptake of the drugs into cancer cells by taking advantage of the high number of insulin receptors found on cancer cell membranes. This procedure should be the standard in all chemotherapy protocols but unfortunately is not.
The immunosurveillance hypothesis, postulates that the immune system is a key factor in resistance against the development of detectable tumours. Components such as T and B cells, macrophages, natural killer cells, cytokines and antibodies, etc. all contribute to immunological balance. It is known that cancer can suppress, fool, inactivate and shut down certain immune functions, which in turn allows it to grow with less resistance.
Literally dozens of natural compounds have shown varying degrees of immune stimulation/modulation properties. Some examples are plant sterols and sterolins, IP6, MGN-3, mushroom extracts, thymus and spleen extracts, antioxidants, mistletoe, lycopene and the list goes on. Which to use? A big mistake many patients make is to take too many of similar acting agents. The shot gun approach of taking a lot and hoping something works is counterproductive. Patients would be better off consulting with a qualified health provider and obtaining specific direction.
- Terrain/Risk Management
Much has been discussed about the “terrain” or “milieu” in which cancer prefers to grow. Cancer patients have alterations in body pH, free radical load and cellular chemistry. Once tumour burden is reduced, a healthy terrain must be re-established for long-term survival. Helping the excretory systems via supporting the liver, kidneys, lymphatics, intestines, lungs and skin are a large part of holistic cancer therapy. Everything from the use of detoxification herbs and supplements to coffee enemas, castor oil packs and diet and nutritional manipulation has been advocated.
Whole body hyperthermia, a technique that raises the core body temperature to 40.5 degrees Celsius and higher, has shown promise as a stand-alone modality or in conjunction with conventional therapy. Hyperthermia destabilizes cancer cells and augments the bodies’ own detoxification and immune systems.
To list all of the many alternative cancer treatments with regards to their pros and cons would take many more pages. The successful treatment of cancer is a challenge to everyone involved and I have yet to meet the person with the monopoly on the truth.
In 1971, U.S. President Richard Nixon declared “War on Cancer” with the aspirations of finding a cure by 1977. “The Big C” is still very much with us today and total victory is nowhere in sight. The question is “Are we winning the war?”
Copyright © 2003 by Dr. Garrett G. Swetlikoff