New blueprint for Cancer Treatment

By Jerome Burne

How to Starve Cancer by Jane McLelland (Agenor Publishing £13.36 pb.)

Older readers may remember TINA: There Is No Alternative. It was the catch-phrase Margaret Thatcher relied on when anyone queried the wisdom of her enthusiasm for the neo-liberal global market economy. What a pity she didn’t notice that there was one, given how well that project went for most of the population!

TINA also serves as a description of the cancer establishment’s unyielding defence of their trio of treatments – surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy – used for decades and still all that is on offer. The idea that anything else might improve effectiveness of the treatment or reduce the still dreadful side-effects is invariably dismissed as evidence-free quackery.

This post is about a remarkable riposte to cancer-TINA by someone who has near zero qualifications for taking on the august and powerful oncology establishment. Jane McLelland is a former physiotherapist, one-time competitive yachtswoman and the author of a recently published book called ‘How to Starve Cancer’. It’s a passionate, brave and gripping medical detective story.

Jane’s most obvious achievement is that she’s still alive. Twenty years ago, she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer – life expectancy measured in months – but here she still is, promoting her book and sharing her discoveries about the biochemistry of cancer and how they can be used to destroy it. Not information oncologists were concerned about in 1999. Few are interested now.

Cheap drugs with anti-cancer effects

But more than identifying cancer’s ignored vulnerabilities, she has mapped the terrain of cancer in a new way that make clear why various complementary and alternative cancer treatments can work – diets, supplements, hyperbaric oxygen, intravenous vitamin C – and how they might be combined more effectively.

What she has added to this mix is the discovery of research on a variety of old drugs with anti-cancer properties that had never been used clinically for that purpose. She found out all about them and how they might benefit her and then made a case for why her doctors should allow her to take them experimentally. More than a decade later the use of cheap, promising drugs is just beginning to be explored by a few radical oncologists

Jane’s cancer saga, began with two serious failures of standard ‘care’: a missed diagnosis of cervical cancer, followed some years later by a failure to spot metastasised stage IV lung cancer, for which the average survival time is three months.

She quickly realised that the conventional concentration on genes and eradicating the tumour at all costs – especially to the patients – meant that many other possibilities were being ignored. What about the various natural growth factors which had been co-opted by the cancer? They were linked to inflammation and to metabolic changes which involved the way the body used fuel. So why not try to reduce inflammation and make fuel from food harder to obtain? What about starving cancer?

A bloody-minded Sherlock Holmes

‘Oncologists ignore the general health of their patients,’ she writes, explaining her approach. ‘Cancer is a systemic disease; markers are detectable in the blood, so it affects the whole body. It is not just some ‘lump’ to be excised.’

This led her to a strategic and tactical approach. She became part medical Sherlock (maybe Shelock) Holmes ‘piecing together clues and trying to make sense of a confusing and complex picture’; part senior manager of herself, trying to head off trouble by taking logical, rather than the standard steps. Both require bloody-mindedness and an appetite for a master’s degree level of understanding of biochemical research.

Faced with the prospect of an operation on her lungs to remove the tumour in 1999, she suggested to her oncologist that it would make sense to take an aspirin-type anti-inflammatory drug called a cox-2 inhibitor because the enzyme it blocked – cox 2 – was part of the system that allowed tumours to hook into a nearby blood supply (angiogenesis).

It also made sense because it would reduce the inflammation that operations are known to cause. However, it still encountered the TINA-type response to any non-standard suggestion: without a massively expensive RCT we can’t do it. Later she found that anti-inflammatory drugs can also cut the risk of cancer metastasising (spreading).

Ways to make chemo more effective ignored

This research lead her to natural and herbal versions and non-drug remedies to make it more difficult for cancers to hook up to a blood supply. But a new problem loomed; her medical team was keen to get her on chemotherapy after the operation. But she’d already had it for her previous cancer and her research had revealed the damage it could do to her immune system.

So again, she became managerial and proposed taking various supplements that had some evidence they could make chemo more effective, making it possible to give less, so reducing the hit on her immune system. This also was resisted.

These rebuffs did nothing, however, to deter Jane from trying other logical angles. She included intermittent fasting and stress reduction techniques in her regime to bring down the level of the stress hormone cortisol (having cancer treatment is very stressful) which also damps down the immune response.

Her overall strategy would have been regarded as intelligent and plausible in any other field. ‘I wanted the terrain, the area around the cancer cell, to be as inhospitable as possible and for the rest of my body to be functioning as well as it could.’

A particularly impressive bit of medical detective work was to propose that raised levels of glucose and insulin from a high carbohydrate diet would help cancer grow. Glucose would provide its first choice of fuel while the insulin would ensure more of it got into the tumour cells. She was looking for a drug or supplement to bring glucose down. We now know the diabetes drug metformin does this and so does the ketogenic diet, but she was way ahead of her time. Some diehards are still denying this idea, even while metformin is being researched as a treatment. [Link]

The herbal extract that answered her prayers

While trawling through health journals, however, Jane discovered another option: a traditional Chinese herbal extract called berberine, which seemed the answer to several of her prayers. It lowered blood glucose, reduced inflammation and targeted hostile gut parasites. It also was particularly effective against her type of tumour, which had features in common with psoriasis. Oh, and it also increased the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

But none of this dedicated and successful medical sleuthing budged her doctors; she was still getting high-dose chemo, although only for six months, followed by three months at a lower level.

She survived it and the tumour shrank, presenting her with a fresh management challenge, putting together a new protocol: ‘To detox to get rid of any remnants of chemotherapy and to rebuild my gut, which I assumed would be badly damaged.’ Other goals included: exercise more; enjoy life; start a new business.

She added a few more supplements and began vitamin C therapy, having carefully investigated it and found how well it fitted with so many of the other things she was doing. Her regular blood tests confirmed her cancer markers were down but her diet, especially, required constant vigilance.

Tumour fights back with blood cancer

‘Could I never let my hair down again?’ she despaired. ‘Was my future to live on a knife edge, checking foods, unable to go out and allow myself a couple of cheeky drinks?’

Then disaster struck. Four years after the operation, she discovered that her red blood cells were clumping together in sticky columns knows as rouleaux. She learned they were common in cancer patients because tumours cause the release of abnormal clotting factors, greatly increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

‘It’s an unspoken side-effect of treatment and a leading cause of death among patients,’ Jane writes. ‘Around 25% of cancer patients die of cardiovascular events which are never directly attributed to the cancer, so they are not included in the statistics.’

The standard treatment would be yet another round of chemotherapy, of course, because there is nothing else – but she was not about to damage her immune system and guts again. Besides which, she discovered, chemo would also push up her risk of developing clots in her blood vessels!

Jane discovers a cheap off-patent treasure

Instead, her first move was to draw on the material on anti-inflammatories and their effect on blood clotting she had already gathered. The rouleaux broke up a little. But further tests showed that she had developed a form of leukaemia  called myelodysplasia ; average survival time 18 months to two years. It was quite probably the result of the heavy chemo had had on her immune system.  Once again, she faced the challenge of putting together her own protocol and once again the medical journals came to the rescue.

Whichever angel looks after researchers was clearly on duty because she noticed a reference to an old, off-patent drug called dipyridamole. It was an antiplatelet (platelets are involved in clotting) drug for cardiovascular problems, but it also had anti-cancer effects, which had been ignored.

But the dipyridamole discovery triggered something else. This was when the idea of using old cheap drugs that have anti-cancer effects started to take off for her. The material Jane found on dipyridamole reported an unbelievable range of effects directly relevant to her situation and, very likely to the thousands of cancer patients who also develop clotting issues.

It could stop blood clots forming, stop platelet aggregation (forming sticky clumps), work together with aspirin and magnesium to thin the blood, restore the balance of the immune system and ‘starve’ cancer cells by preventing them getting the material needed to make the DNA for the new cells they were constantly building.

Making up a personalised drug cocktail

Dipyridamole’s huge potential set Jane off on the search for other old anti-cancer drugs that could be added to the combination of natural supplements and complementary treatments she was already using

The first she found was one of the early statin drugs called Lovastatin. Statins are normally given to cut heart attack risk by reducing cholesterol production, but Jane came across research showing that combining Lovastatin with an anti-inflammatory drug used for arthritis, caused cancer cells to self-destruct (apoptosis).

She was now able to assemble a radical and totally unorthodox combination to keep her cancer at bay. It didn’t depend on one super new powerful drug to hit genetic targets in a tumour, instead it was a ‘guerrilla warfare approach of hitting cancer with lots of bullets from different directions.’ And it was astoundingly cheap.

The statin would starve the cancer of the cholesterol needed to build the walls of new cancer cells and the anti-inflammatory would damp down the inflammation that fuelled tumour growth. Meanwhile, the dipyridamole would starve the cancer of the proteins needed to make new DNA and Jane’s diet would keep the supply of the fuels the tumour relied on – fat and glucose – as low as possible.

Markers for cancer in her blood plunge

This was highly unorthodox and perhaps her most impressive achievement was persuading her regular doctors to prescribe the drugs for her madly off-piste experiment.

The results, however, were remarkable. Several of the markers showing levels of cancer activity, which had been sky high only a few months early, had dropped back into the normal range. A few years later a Canadian group published lab research showing the deadly effect a combination of statins and dipyridamole could have on cancer cells.

If this were a movie script, that would be cue for credits, but we are only half way through the book. Jane, as well as building a business and working to help others, has continued her explorations of cancer metabolism and compiled a remarkable cancer ‘Metro Map’. It reveals the multiple supply lines and a variety of treatment combinations that can take them out.

Cancer TINA with its three antique treatments dating back, in the case of chemotherapy, to World War I, has never seemed more untrue.




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 “The Hybrid Diet” was written with nutritionist Patrick Holford, published 2018. Award: 2015: Finalist for 'Blogger of the Year' Medical Journalists' Association.


  • I have bowel, liver and probably lung cancer. This is a fascinating article. I really admire what Jane McLelland has done for herself and others. And thank you, Jerome.

    After reading this blog and others, I didn’t allow myself to pushed down the standard treatment path. My consultant wanted me to have chemotherapy, but I declined and quoted the evidence from ‘Too Much Chemotherapy’, the article on the BMJ website. He didn’t argue. I have had two operations that made clear sense to me, both dealing with a bowel blockage, but I declined any more. I don’t want the time I have left to be dominated by hospital visits, feeling awful from chemotherapy and recovering from surgery with questionable benefits. We’re all different, but this feels right for me.

    NHS doctors and nurses have been excellent. I have found senior specialist nurses to be surprisingly independently minded. Once they felt safe to be open with me, they were quite refreshing. One experienced hospital nurse told me she’d stopped her dad taking statins because of the serious leg pains he was getting. That supposedly rare side effect that seems so common. My brother had been losing his memory on statins before he’d stopped taking them. The nurse told me that she also refuses the flu jab, which causes her some problems at work, and has successfully tried the low-carb approach to eating.

    After a number of visits to my GP’s practice nurse, she mentioned she was doing an NHS diabetes course. I laughed and said I wasn’t sure she’d hear much sense. I described it as a regime to maintain people on drugs for life. Good for pharma and bad for patients. I told her there was another approach that actually made people better. I’m pleased to say that she was aware of the low-carb approach and had herself partly gone down that road, ditching sugar and feeling much better for it. She’s lost weight and noticed that she felt more mentally alert. She wasn’t fat phobic and even mentioned the ketogenic diet. I mentioned the work of Dr David Unwin to her and she has been looking into it. The following week I loaned her ‘Diabetes Unpacked’, an excellent book by Zoe Harcombe and the other leading thinkers in this field. I now keep her informed about news from the Public Health Collaboration, who have done so much good work on this subject.

    The truth about diabetes is now out there and is increasingly being heard by experienced NHS staff. Maybe at some point the NHS might open its mind to new approaches to cancer.

  • Good luck, Stephen. Hope you can find a way through the maze and are winning the battles with your health. Dr. Laurent Schwartz is another doctor whose approach you may want to look into. I read about him here from a health and fitness guy I sometimes read, All the best.

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