By Jerome Burne
The Cancer Revolution: integrative medicine the future of cancer care
By Patricia Peat (Win-win Health Intelligence Ltd) Amazon £18.94
Twelve years ago Robin Daly’s 23-year-old daughter Bryony was dying of cancer when he set up a charity called Yes to Life to provide information about unconventional treatments such as changes in diet, supplements, vitamin C infusions, oxygen therapy and the like. At the time, although popular all such complementary options were sternly rejected as ineffective and possibly dangerous by conventional oncologists.
The major source of information was Dr. Google but the result of putting “cancer” into the search box was that you were deluged with an overwhelming volume of information and opinions. Informed choice was almost impossible.
Today the picture has changed and to celebrate Yes to Life is associated with a new book ‘The Cancer Revolution: integrative medicine – the future of cancer care’. It packages expert information in a clear and easily understandable way on how you can help your system handle cancer more effectively. It offers another option to only relying on ever more sophisticated ways to zap a tumour.
When Yes to Life was launched it was hard for most patients to understand what linked the various complementary options. Why should cutting out all sugar, boosting your oxygen intake and following an alkaline diet all help you to fight cancer? They seemed arbitrary and random and finding an explanation was a hit and miss process.
Rethink on the gene theory of cancer
Today a far more coherent narrative about an alternative approach to cancer, what goes wrong and how to repair it, is emerging. Many of the complementary approaches can now be seen as fitting into an overall picture which forms a background to the book. The official line, that cancer is the result of random mutations that create rogue cells, which grow fast and have to be fought aggressively with surgery, radiation and drugs, is no longer as convincing as it used to be.
The sort of statements that emerge from this new approach could include: ‘Cancer is rather like ageing; we don’t want to beat it or fight it but manage it’ and ‘Cancer is not disease, it’s a condition.’
These are not phrases that come from the introductory leaflet of a clinic dedicated to complementary treatments but the considered opinion of a report published 18 months ago by an internationally recognized scientist known for his readiness to hop over academic boundaries.
Professor Paul Davies, now Principal Investigator at Arizona State University’s Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology was asked by the American National Institutes of Health to take a look at cancer through the eyes of a physicist whose methods and insights differed markedly from those of cancer biologists. The Institutes’ concern was that, despite the billions spent on cancer research, the improvement in survival rates was pitiful. ‘The average increase in life-span is just a few weeks, compared with forty years ago,’ says Davies.
It’s the environment, stupid
The result was a report which he delivered last year to a prestigious audience in a lecture in London organized by the New Scientist magazine entitled; ‘What is cancer and how can we manage it.’ So this new perspective couldn’t be more firmly inside the citadel of serious respectable mainstream scientific thinking. The take away message from Davies’s research was that cancer specialists have been looking in the wrong place.
Research and treatment, especially in the wake of the Human Genome project , has largely focused on the tumour itself, what are the chemicals that will damage it, what are the mutated genes and how can we target them to turn them off. What they have been missing is the health of the surrounding cells. When they are functioning properly cancer is far less likely to develop. Sick and depleted cells create cancer-favourable conditions
To paraphrase: ‘It’s the environment stupid.’ Or to put it another way – if you want to know why a group of kids are in a gang, doing drugs and thieving don’t just concentrate on their personal morality, look at the conditions surrounding them and the resources they have access to. It’s a fascinating approach and I’ve summarised it here. At the same time I wrote about another highly respected American researcher, Professor Mina Bissell, who had been investigating the cellular environment surrounding a tumour or as she called it, the ‘extra cellular matrix’, several decades before Davies.
Davies’ and Bissell’s work is directly relevant to anyone wanting to try tackling their cancer by putting their whole system back on track and creating a cancer-unfriendly internal environment. This involves getting high levels of oxygen, low levels of glucose and a pH balance that is more alkaline than acid. The opposite conditions make cancer more likely: low oxygen, a large and regular supply of glucose in the blood and a pH balance in the acidic direction.
Cutting cancer’s food supply
None of this was news to complementary therapists but now the approach had heavyweight scientific backing. One promising dietary approach, for instance, is the very low carbohydrate or “ketogenic” diet which drastically reduces the amount of glucose available to feed cancer. There are also other benefits which I’ve described here. The post about Professor Bissell has some more details about the cancer/sugar link.
So this research has two very important implications – neither of which was likely to have been quite what the Academy of Sciences had in mind when they commissioned Davies and which the cancer establishment in the UK has done their best to ignore. It makes the claim, enshrined in the Cancer Act, that nothing other than the official three – chemo, radiation and surgery – can possibly be of any benefit in the treatment of cancer, seem increasingly implausible.
Secondly it provides patients with a coherent framework that indicates what they could try and why it makes sense. None of this suggests that the conventional treatments are irrelevant, but that combined with a whole system approach the results are likely to be better. Hence the term “integrative” in the book’s title. It refers to an increasingly popular approach to chronic disorders in general – using both drugs and natural products.
The usual critique of the non- drug approach is that it lacks an evidence base but as Cancer Revolution makes clear, one is emerging. An exercise programme doubles the benefits of chemotherapy, for instance, while a multivitamin can reduce the chances of death from breast cancer by a third. The lack of research is certainly unsatisfactory but the major reason is a lack of of interest in any approach that doesn’t promise large commercial benefits.
Authors include top physicians
One of the most impressive features of the book is that it contains contributions from 38 doctors, clinicians, researchers and practitioners; this is no eccentric view of cancer from a lone maverick.
Associate Member and Attending Physician at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York , Dr Gary Deng, writes about the growing use of integrative medicine in the USA. A German physician, Dr Friedrich Douwes, describes the non-toxic treatments used to treat around 5000 cancer patients a year at the Klinik St Georg in Bavaria that he heads.
Professor Simon Slavin explains the personalised cancer treatments given to patients at the International Centre for Cell Therapy and Cancer Immunotherapy in Tel Aviv. UK Professor Robert Thomas is a conventional consultant oncologist at Addenbrookes’s hospital who combines regular treatments with advice on lifestyle strategies. He sets out the benefits of physical exercise.
The book is easy to navigate with colour-coded topics and designed to help patients put together their own plan. There is clear and straightforward advice about improving your pH balance or how to shift your system in a more alkaline direction and chapters on nutrition. But many cancer patients come to feel that just concentrating on making physical changes isn’t enough and that their healing should involve paying attention to their emotional and spiritual side. That’s covered in detail too.
I have to declare my own interest as a Trustee of Yes to Life but I had nothing to do with “Revolution”; the first time I saw it was on publication. I was hugely impressed. It’s very sane, reasonable, optimistic, easy to use and has information on pretty well any non- drug cancer topic you are likely to encounter. And if you want to know more there are links to further reading and on-line sites.
If you are involved with cancer, unless you’ve no wish to stray from official protocols, I can’t think of any reason not to get a copy. It will introduce you to new ideas and tell you enough to know if they seem right for you. The dark days of bewilderment and Google overload are over.
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