Garrett Swetlikoff, ND
Cancer has been present throughout human history. Egyptian and Inca mummies show evidence of the disorder.
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 1900, cancer was the eighth leading cause of death in North America after pneumonia, tuberculosis, heart disease, stroke and assorted other conditions. It accounted for one in 12 deaths. In the last half of the 20th century, cancer has become the second leading cause of death, with one in three people succumbing. Equally astounding are the corresponding rises in
domestic pet, wildlife and marine cancers.
Cancer has an impact on individuals, families and society as a whole. At current rates, approximately one in two men and one in three women will develop cancer in their lifetimes. Cancer affects two of every three families in Canada.
An estimated 136,900 new cases of cancer and 66,200 deaths occurred in Canada last year. The most frequently diagnosed cancers 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 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 per cent of all potential years of life lost.
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 disease resulting either from mutations affecting genes that control normal cell function or from gene activity-governing enzyme systems that either activate 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 to 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 percent 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 workplace. Dietary habits and tobacco use, by far the most important sources, account for about 35 to 60 percent and 30 to 40 percent respectively of all cancer deaths.
A wide variety of natural and manmade chemicals have carcinogenic potential or 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 (energy emitted from a radioactive source) from solar and cosmic rays, medical and dental applications and nuclear power, accounts for about four to five per cent of all human cancers.
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 and 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-1990s, the overall cancer death rate has been steadily decreasing. Today, nearly half of all cancer patients can expect to live nearly five or more years after their diagnosis. Half full or half empty, the cup of progress against cancer is in the eye of the beholder.
The basic conventional strategies for treating cancer, which include 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, to remove or reduce tumour burden is the goal of surgery. This is particularly applicable in early stage, non-metastatic cancer.
Radiation therapy injures cancer cells so 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 or combined with surgery and/or chemotherapy, or it is used as a palliative control of cancer when a cure is not possible.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs or chemicals to destroy cancer cells by affecting 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 killing 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 who 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 health care 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.
An agent that is cytotoxic means 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, preventive 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 chelidonium plant extract and thiophosphoric acid, acts very much like a chemotherapy drug but with few side-effects. A ginseng extract called Careseng has
significant cytotoxic properties. Both must be given intravenously by a health professional. 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 (tissue immune cells), natural killer cells, cytokines (immune regulators like interferon, interleukin) and antibodies all contribute to immunological balance. It is known that cancer can suppress, fool, inactivate and shut down certain immune functions, which, in turn, allow 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 taking too many similar-acting agents. The shotgun approach of taking many and hoping one will work is counterproductive. Patients are better off consulting with a qualified health provider and obtaining specific direction.
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 by supporting the liver, kidneys, lymphatics, intestines, lungs and skin are a large part of wholistic cancer therapy. Everything from the use of detoxification herbs and supplements to coffee enemas, castor oil packs, 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 body’s own detoxification and immune systems.
To list the pros and cons of all the available alternative cancer treatments 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 a monopoly on the truth.
In 1971, United States president Richard Nixon declared "war on cancer" with 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?"
What is Cancer?
Cancer begins when a cell divides and multiplies uncontrollably. Eventually these cells form a visible mass or tumour. This initial tumour is called the “primary” tumour, cells from which can break off and lodge elsewhere in the body, where they then grow into secondary tumours. This process is called “metastasis” and a cancer that 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, not liver cancer.
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