Cancer U-turn on the way? Diet and supplements moving up the prevention agenda

By Jerome Burne

I’m not given to melodrama but I think I have just spotted that the cancer establishment is getting ready to perform a massive, unthinkable, screeching U-turn. Impossibly expensive new drugs are out and diet, exercise and supplement (yes you read it right) are in.

My evidence comes from two jaw-dropping articles in a glossy cancer magazine aimed at the general reader that carries drug company ads and conference announcements. The articles are well-informed, accessible and non-technical.  Cancer coverage in the lay press is nearly always upbeat describing new drugs that improve survival and are well tolerated with promises of even greater improvements around the corner.

So I was amazed to read this heading to the first feature:

‘Almost four in ten serious adverse drug reactions now listed on the labels of 12 targeted cancer therapies were not mentioned in the studies that lead to their approval. Half of the serious reactions that were missed are potentially fatal.’

This was the conclusion of a team at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto who have been investigating just how reliable is the evidence reported in cancer drug trials. You certainly need it to be when you are trying to weigh up the risks and benefits of treatment. The clear answer is that you need to take it with a large pinch of salt,

Cancer trial: marathon runners only need apply

Drugs such as Avastin and Erbitux, for instance, have been unjustifiably pushed as being very effective with ‘no differences in toxicities’ in the control and placebo groups when that’s simply untrue. Also cancer drugs in clinical trials are routinely tested on patients who are fitter and younger (47) than the age of the majority of those who would be prescribed them in the real world (around 65).  You can only get into one of these trials, one wit has suggested, if you are a marathon runner who happens to have cancer.

The distorting effects of this dangerously misleading and over-enthusiastic marketing won’t come as a surprise to any reasonably sophisticated patients but there is an added significance in the case of cancer. Official cancer treatments – drugs, surgery and radiotherapy – are the only permitted ones on the grounds that they are backed up by rigorous trials and so occupy the scientific high ground.

But if they are this unreliable, on what grounds are patients being protected from the ‘false hope’ of the likes of intravenous vitamin C when their oncologist may well be dispensing possibly lethal false hope by giving them a drug with toxicities that have been cynically concealed from clinicians and patients alike?

Of course it is still logically possible to argue that just because the evidence for the inevitable side-effects that come with life-saving drugs (lets ignore the fact that no treatment saves lives, they just prolong them) have been massaged away, that doesn’t automatically mean that vitamin C and the like is safe and effective.

Time to stop spending billions on drug driven trench warfare

This is where the second article comes in. It also appeared in the January/February issue of Cancer World – freely available on-line – and was even more surprising.

It began by making the familiar argument that it is just not feasible to continue spending billions on trench war against cancer. The latest treatments are ‘hugely complex, have limited efficacy and come at a cost that renders them unsustainable,’ it stated.  It might have suggested all sorts of fudges and fixes on the grounds that one more push could lead to the breakthrough, but it didn’t.

Instead it bit the bullet and proposed that we need to change tack entirely and start putting far more resources into prevention. And how might we do this? The answer is even more surprising than the admission of fraudulent marketing.

‘A more holistic, systemic understanding of the nature of cancer is emerging where the focus is less on the mutated cancer cell itself and more on the role played by the body’s own physiological processes in turning normal cells into cancer cells and enabling them to thrive and spread.’

Benefits of cleaning up cancer’s neighbourhood

If you are a patient with cancer and you are exploring all options, that is probably a familiar line that makes a lot of sense, but coming from the mainstream?  In fact it is a pretty good summary of the approach taken by a pioneering American researcher Professor Mina Bissell whose work was covered on HIUK in early 2015.

She’s been investigating this cancer-creating ‘physiological process’ for thirty years, often in the face of considerable hostility. She has shown that the ‘extra-cellular matrix’, as she terms it – the cells surrounding one that is turning cancerous – can be modified to make the development of cancer more or less likely.

The Cancer World article suggests that rather than devoting all their attention to gene changes, researchers should also be looking at other systems that can affect the environment a cancer is growing in. These include our gut bacteria, the immune system and hormones. ‘Evidence is growing for the ability of diet, exercise and reducing obesity,’ it goes on ‘to prevent, suppress, or reverse the carcinogenic process.’ How many patients have suggested something similar to their oncologists only to be dismissed with a comment about a lack of evidence? Still, better late than never, eh?

Certainly some experts believe prevention along these lines is worth investigating, such as delegates at last year’s World Oncology Forum where the ability of nutritional interventions to reverse cancer was discussed, among them ‘vitamin and mineral supplements’.

And the discussion had got beyond suggesting eating more fish and fibre and exercising. The idea that insulin can stimulate cancer growth was on the agenda, although curiously the obvious implication that a very low carbohydrate diet would make sense wasn’t flagged up. This is also a topic that’s been covered here on HIUK.

Will the Cinderella of research go to the ball?

Top names at centres such as the Ludwig Cancer Research Centre at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore have signed up to an appeal to policy makers and opinion leaders: ‘to promote the development of new evidence-based strategies aimed at cancer prevention and early intervention.’

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a serious push for the likes of mineral and vitamin supplements along with insulin lowering diets and strategies to be run through unbiased trials with a view to including them in what was on offer in regular oncology clinics?  They are starting from a low base however. Prevention’s Cinderella status means that it runs at about 3% of the budget.

The most obvious challenge will be wresting funds away from the high profile high tech centres doing genetics to diet, exercise and metabolism. The other issue even more serious challenge will be to find oncologists who have any knowledge at all of nutrition and the intricacies of metabolism let alone hormones and the microbiome.

One place they could start, at least to get an overview of some of the areas that have proved promising so far, would be a new handbook for non-drug approaches called The Cancer Revolution. It describes what very knowledgeable clinicians are already doing already to shift the “extracellular matrix” in an anti-cancer direction. It’s been put out by the charity Yes to Life – conflict of interests statement – I am a trustee.

Scientists researching ways to implement the new initiative will find plenty of plausible and sophisticated approaches to investigate. I’ll be writing about the book very soon.

Jerome Burne

Jerome Burne

Jerome Burne is the editor of HealthInsightUK. He is an award-winning journalist who has been specialising in medicine and health for the last 10 years and now works mainly for the Daily Mail. His most recent book “10 Secrets of Healthy Ageing” was written with nutritionist Patrick Holford. He blogs at “Body of Evidence” – jeromeburne.com. 2015: Finalist for 'Blogger of the Year' award from Medical Journalists' Association.

12 Comments

  • Jerome, your posting is a thoughtful, accurate summary of the present state of health “care” when it comes to cancer. For that matter, the same can be said for mental health “care.” I used to believe that pharmaceutical companies and most doctors want to find a cure, or effective remedies for such challenges. However, after my daughter and dad died in the same year from adverse drug reactions caused by unnecessary prescriptions, I, and my dwindling family, are much smarter today. We paid a high price for our tragic learning lessons, but we no longer consciously support a mainstream medical system that seems more concerned about profits, not people.

  • The war on cancer, fought since the 1970s, at mind-boggling expense is a failure. We seem to have to fail for a very long time before we begin to question whether we’ve been barking up the wrong tree. Let’s hope people are beginning to look again with an open mind.

  • We all have to die of something, but part of the intense fear associated with a diagnosis of cancer, is fear of the actual treatments that will be offered.

    If alternative treatments can even do as well as existing ones, but with lesser side effects, that will be a huge gain.

    Did the article mention 3bp or related compounds by any chance?

    • Editorial

      No mention of 3bp – I’m not sure the people involved in this initiative are even signed up to the metabolic theory of cancer. Unfortunately last exchange I had with my guru on this, author Travis Kristofferson who is coming to London in september/October. it hadn’t panned out too well. No details. Yes To Life will have details of his visit if you want to hear him.

  • Self-knowledge is very important all you have to do… become more proactive and take responsibility for your health.
    ‘Stop Feeding your Cancer’ – Dublin doctor shows patients how to beat cancer
    He has kept a detailed record of the results over the past nine years, showing that the diet can switch cancer growth off, reversing it into a dormant state, and effectively cure the patient.Dr John Kelly http://www.kennys.ie

    Because of my passion for prevention, I am aware of the Hay system diet is very effective Food combining for health.www.Thorsons .com.The hope of humanity lies in the prevention of degenerative and mental diseases,not in the care of their symptoms.

    The work preparation you cannot do others’ homework for them.The only thing we can do is to try as best we can to impart to others a motive for them to prepare themselves.Few of us live up to the potential of our uniqueness.In fact,for many of the people you will be reading about,it took their illness to put them on the path to self -realisation.Sickness pulls consciousness to ever deeper recess of the self.Best wishes
    N Kelly

  • Delighted to see this post! I am really taken with epigenetics. Feed your good genes to suppress the 50 or 60 genes that are prone to disease. This requires all wisdom of diet, exercise and environment. For this retuning of the brain has to happen and Athena Retreats focus on optimising the brain to optimise physical well being. 1in4 of cancer patients get depression and 1in10 get chronic depression! Focussing on the brain and emotional well being has to be a priority.

    • Editorial

      Sounds like you are targeting specific genes with specific environmental interventions. Be amazed if you were and very interested to know details. Or are you just providing healthy diet that “feeds” good genes? If so how do you know? And does it feed all or just some? And how do you know “feeding good genes” actually “suppresses” genes prone to disease? Can see that it might but is it just an assumption/hope?

  • “The hope of humanity lies in the prevention of degenerative and mental diseases,not in the care of their symptoms.”

    Well put, Ms Kelly. Prevention of degenerative diseases of mind and body is a far more decent ambition than is treatment. And there is no more decent a way to facilitate prevention than to avoid or minimise persons exposure to their cause(s).

    But nailing the multi-factorial causes of the multi-faceted manifestations of cancer is a high ambition. Clearly cancers begin with cells altering their behaviour – there exists a cytological mechanism that must be the distinction between being non-cancerous and cancerous. But also there exist several known risk factors that are behavioural, dietary, or environmental by their nature.

    If we are to claim that we really have ‘nailed’ cancer, that we understand its causes and mechanisms then our explanation has to explain how, beginning with each ‘external’ risk factor, those risk factors are commuted to bring about alterations to cytological behaviours within cells that are turned cancerous.

    The following may be impertinent or highly pertinent, I do not know. To what extent, Ms Kelly, do you think corruption of the epigenome (aberrant methylation) could be responsible for the distinction between non-cancerous cells and cancerous ones, and how, if at all, might diet, behaviour, and environmental factors induce corruption of the epigenome?

    For the record decency alone does not determine the trajectory of research efforts. The attributes of fiat currency exerts far greater influence, and treatments, howsoever indecent, are far more profitable that prevention achieved through avoiding contact with cause. There is no room for wishful thinking in the corporate agenda.

  • What we know :
    According to the America Cancer Society,the risk of death from lung cancer is 20 times greater among men who smoke cigarettes than among men who have never smoked.The risk of lung cancer among women smokers is five times that women who have never smoked.

    What Is cancer :Expert agree that there are actually some 200 different diseases that can be called cancers.They have different causes ,originate in different tissues,develop for different reasons and in different ways ,and demand vastly different kinds of treatment.All have one fatal element in common, however;in every case,normal cells have gone wild and lost their normal growth.

    What causes Cancer?medical science devotes constant attention to a search for those factors in our environment that can produce cancer in human beings .They include a large number of chemical those of tobacco smoke,including asbestos fibers and other occupational chemical hazards;ionizing radiation such as that from X-rays,nuclear bombs,sunlight;injury,or repeated irritation,metal or plastic implants;flaws in the body;as immune reaction;genetic mistakes parasites and many scientist believe -viruses.

    Minding the body the security of routine also help limit serious disease.Studies of people who meditate regularly have shown that their physiological age is much lower than their chronological age.These techniques do people no good with out the motivation to use them.The first requirment is to get people to love themslves enough to care for their bodies and minds..

    To some extent,then cancer is not a primary disease.It is partly a reaction to a set of circumstances that weaken the body’s defences.That is why ,when a doctor cures cancer or some other disease.without ensuring that the trearment addresses the patient’s entire life,a new illness may appear.

    Cancer is a symbol,as most illness is something going wrong in the patient’s life,a warning to him to take another road.
    Individual reactions
    Although the mind is incredibly powerful,often takes something equally powerful to turn it on.
    Never underestimate the value of the truth even if it’s a shock.
    Statistics shows that except in the case of getting run over or needing an emergency caesarian orthodox western medicine not only won’t cure you but may leave you worse off than you were before,in fact,these days scientific medicine itself is responsible for a good percentage of disease.With all the fancy chemical and computerised testing equipment, we have to hand asthma arthritis diabetes,cancer virtually all chronic degenerative​ diseases known to mankind are thriving and medicine hasn’t affected their incidence one tiny bit.
    Nafsica

  • What we know :
    According to the America Cancer Society,the risk of death from lung cancer is 20 times greater among men who smoke cigarettes than among men who have never smoked.The risk of lung cancer among women smokers is five times that women who have never smoked.

    What Is cancer :Expert agree that there are actually some 200 different diseases that can be called cancers.They have different causes ,originate in different tissues,develop for different reasons and in different ways ,and demand vastly different kinds of treatment.All have one fatal element in common, however;in every case,normal cells have gone wild and lost their normal growth.

    What causes Cancer?medical science devotes constant attention to a search for those factors in our environment that can produce cancer in human beings .They include a large number of chemical those of tobacco smoke,including asbestos fibers and other occupational chemical hazards;ionizing radiation such as that from X-rays,nuclear bombs,sunlight;injury,or repeated irritation,metal or plastic implants;flaws in the body;as immune reaction;genetic mistakes parasites and many scientists believe -viruses.

    Minding the body the security of routine also help limit serious disease.Studies of people who meditate regularly have shown that their physiological age is much lower than their chronological age.These techniques do people no good without the motivation to use them.The first requirement is to get people to love themselves enough to care for their bodies and minds.

    To some extent,then cancer is not a primary disease.It is partly a reaction to a set of circumstances that weaken the body’s defences.That is why ,when a doctor cures cancer or some other disease.without ensuring that the treatment addresses the patient’s entire life,a new illness may appear.

    Cancer is a symbol,as most illness is something going wrong in the patient’s life,a warning to him to take another road.
    Individual reactions
    Although the mind is incredibly powerful,often takes something equally powerful to turn it on.

    Nafsica

  • Interesting that a proposed non-drug treatment for two major diseases – Cancer and T2 Diabetes – are converging.

    I wonder what other diseases would show positive responses to a low carbohydrate diet and increased exercise and maintenance of optimum body mass?

    There are two enormous hurdles to jump, though:

    (1) Carbohydrates are enormously addictive to many, giving the “comfort food” reaction. Go on, treat yourself to a nice piece of cake. You’ll enjoy it.

    (2) The food industry makes an enormous amount of money from “comfort food”.

    Oh, and what is that Cancer Research campaign about, featuring “substantially proportioned” people getting together to eat cake and raise money? If we believe this article (which sounds pretty believable) should the strap line be “Go on, feed that cancer.”?

  • Diabetes can develop at any age.After age 30 it more commonly affects women than men.A diabetes diagnosis is not a difficult one .Especially in children,the symptoms of rapid weight loss,extreme hunger ,weakness,frequent urination,and thirst makes it easy to recognise.
    Treatment
    A mild diabetic often needs only to reduce the number of carbohydrates in his diet and replace with proteins.Sugar-free foods and drinks enable a diabetic to enjoy some of the life’s luxuries.
    November 1982 ,British doctors admitted that they have been on the wrong track and for twenty years have been giving the wrong advice to their diabetic patients.
    Diet is the only treatment needed by many adult diabetics,particularly those who are obese when they develop the disease,provided they can lose and not regain their excess weight.Obese people are more likely to develop diabetes ,they should have urine or blood sugar tests yearly after the age of 40.Diet Guide;In general ,almost half of the day’s carbohydrates should be eaten at lunch ,since this is usually when activity and energy expenditure are greater.My mother was over 60 when she was diagnosed type 2 diabetes …now four of my brother develop the same type diabetes.

    Thank you to the unrecognised and humble genius who had found the key ,not only to diabetes but also the degenerative disease.
    I follow Dr Hays’s he revealed that he was having remarkable success in restoring former late onset of diabetics to health,without drugs,eleven years before Banting and best discover insulin.He told his patient to eat baked potato once a day ,whole wheat bread and all the juicy fruits that were desired The improvement on this regime he affirmed ,was marked very gratify to the patient,increase strength and all the natural sugar voided and this was even diminished….
    He also instructed his patient to keep elimination up to date by every possible means,including daily plain water.But to the medical profession at that time, his treatment for diabetics was rank blasphemy.
    For one thing ,diabetes had always been considered incurable;for another thing ,all avenues of relief had been explored without success.Yet here was a man who preached that diabetes was curable without the use of drugs .So the branded him a charlatan and ostracised him -they could do no less to safeguard their professional integrity.
    N kelly

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