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Cancer Prevention and Treatment Options — Introduction
P. Anthony Chapdelaine, Jr., MD, MSPH, Exec. Dir./Sec.*
What comes to mind when we hear the word “cancer”?
For many of us, the word “cancer” is itself a scary one, reminding us of how our body can seem to lose control over itself in unpredictable ways. We’ve long held the belief, and were taught, that cancer cells – like Ninja warriors – silently slip past our immune system and then suddenly settle in the bone marrow, or perhaps a tissue like the breast, blossoming into a rapidly growing and out-of-control malignant tumor. (A tumor, or neoplasm, is simply a swelling or abnormal growth of tissue which can be “benign,” that is, non-cancerous, or “malignant,” that is, cancerous.)
For others of us, the word “cancer” conjures up images of loved ones, friends, or even ourselves bravely battling that diagnosis for months or years, eventually to be told by doctors – after some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or so-called “immunotherapy,” (the latest in the medical pantheon of medical treatments) – that we were “cancer free.” Still, lingering in the back of our minds is the dread that our cancer may return and shorten our lives, perhaps forcing us through one, or more, debilitating and sometimes painful rounds of what our doctors finally admit are “last-resort treatments,” forcing our loved ones to watch, powerless to help except for their prayers.
For far-too-many of us, the word “cancer” is one that our doctor only recently applied to us as we join hundreds of thousands of people in the United States making up the annual new cancer statistics – the charts with their cancer-trend lines that for most cancers barely budged over the half-century (and trillions of dollars) since the United States announced its “war on cancer.”
We’re told that somehow our genetics are to blame for most cancers. We are told that there are two reasons for our DNA to mutate (an error in the DNA’s replication). One reason is because of something “exogenous” or outside of the cell, for example from exposure to a carcinogen (cancer causing substance) such as radiation. The other reason is because of a random error within the DNA itself when it replicates, a mutation that is “endogenous” (occurring within the cellular DNA) for reasons apparently unknown.1, 2, 3
In either case, DNA mutations occur when a “proto-oncogene” turns into an “oncogene.” Scientists have identified dozens of proto-oncogenes (which are genes that help regulate cell growth during the development of the fetus and during childhood). At some point during childhood these proto-oncogenes are switched off by “suppressor” genes. However, either because of exogenous (carcinogenic) exposures or because of endogenous (random) errors, the suppressor genes are inactivated and don’t do their job, allowing the proto-oncogene to switch back on and turn into an oncogene resulting in unregulated cell growth (malignant tumor).2, 3
Unfortunately for most of us, modern medicine cannot change the DNA inside of us (or prevent the “endogenous” random mutations), and so, we are told that for the endogenous-derived malignant tumor we are stuck with a fact-of-life that all we can do is wait for cancer to develop and then apply our scientific know-how in order to cut it out, or kill it with toxic chemicals or radiation.1
On the other hand, we know many of the “exogenous” carcinogenic environmental triggers (such as x-rays, ultraviolet light, chemical toxins, viruses, hormones) that cause the proto-oncogene to reactivate later in life and become an oncogene. Doctors place little emphasis on educating a patient about how to minimize these triggers over the patient’s lifetime other than general suggestions such s “improve your diet and exercise more,” certainly helpful, but inadequate. It is not the fault of doctors that the medical sick-care system spends little time in training them to understand and counsel their patients about environmental triggers. Nor is the fault of the doctors that the medical sick-care system’s insurance reimbursement schedule pays very little for all the time that must go into counseling. Effective counseling requires that a great deal of time be spent with the patient, over multiple sessions, in order to help the patient change their behavior or exposures.
To intervene directly with DNA mutations within the cell and correct the errors is currently a matter for research. Perhaps, they tell us, in five, or ten, or twenty years we can insert modified viruses into cancer cells – or use other techniques – to destroy the wayward cells from the inside out. Indeed, there is rudimentary research showing this approach can work – for a few cancers and for certain people.
Where does this leave us at present?
Given our present understanding of genetic mutations, doctors try to intervene by measuring different markers that are sometimes present on particular genes, and then using these markers to predict the odds that a person will get cancer. Or they use the markers to predict which chemotherapy drugs will most likely kill the cancer cell. Doctors may then try to use markers found on genes to roughly guide them – and their patients – on what to do about the increased risk for cancer for those patients who possess the markers.
One example is the BRCA gene marker which increases risk for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and peritoneal cancer. However, this familial marker is not found in 90% to 96% of those women who ultimately go on to develop breast cancer.2
Since the lifetime risk for women to develop breast cancer by 70 years of age is about 12%, and since the BRCA genetic marker is only found in a tiny fraction (about 4% to 10%) of those women, then finding the BRCA gene won’t change breast cancer rates very much.
However, for the relatively few women who have the BRCA gene it may make a difference – although even that is not guaranteed since nearly half of the women who carry the BRCA genetic marker will never develop breast cancer (even if they do nothing). For the relatively few women with BRCA genes, both doctor and patient remain uncertain on whether to “watch and wait” to see whether a cancer develops (which occurs a bit over half the time), or whether to remove both breasts and ovaries in the hope of preventing cancer to develop. Complicating this decision is that there are many other risk factors that must be considered for the BRCA-marker-positive woman: family history; reproductive history; the specific BRCA gene; multiple personal and environmental exposures (which are risk factors that are rarely, if ever, considered in cancer studies). This is not an easy choice and the decision must be that of the woman, based on her understanding of the doctor’s explanation and her comfort level with her decision.
For other types of cancers, we face similar dilemmas. There are currently no clear-cut answers regarding cancer risk and prevention, screening, treatment or follow-up.
So, what’s a person to do?
Before we address that, let’s step back and consider the two perspectives of the world that determine how doctors look at and treat their patients.
How Mainstream Differs from Non-Mainstream Medical Practice
There are two main world-views, or philosophies, involved in how a doctor looks at chronic diseases such as cancer: the allopathic, or “mainstream,” approach; and, the “non-mainstream” (may-or-may-not be allopathically trained), or naturopathic approach.
These two schools of medical thought rely on different interpretations of reality based on different starting points. There is some overlap between the two philosophies, since both viewpoints come from empirical observations of what normal and abnormal human anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry look like. Both, for example, use similar approaches to acute and emergency medical conditions.
What differs is that the naturopathic or non-mainstream allopathic doctor acknowledges the truth behind Antoine Béchamp’s observation that the body’s milieu (environment) sets up the conditions in which health or disease can exist – in contrast to the mainstream allopathic doctor who accepts as fact Louis Pasteur’s (Béchamp’s rival) discovery of microbes (such as bacteria) associated with certain diseases as being a cause-and-effect association rather than an assumption. (Interestingly, Pasteur is reported on his deathbed to have proclaimed that “Béchamp was right.”)
What differs is that the non-mainstream doctor searches for underlying weaknesses or deficiencies in body, mind, and spirit, and offers corresponding remedies (lifestyle, vitamins, herbs) based on millennia of empirical evidence and in accord with Hippocrates’ injunction (which mainstream doctors, influenced by big drug company advertising and financial underwriting of much of their medical school training seem to have forgotten): “First, do no harm.”
1. Philosophy of the Mainstream (Allopathic-trained) doctor
The crux of the “mainstream” allopathic approach – how most doctors have been taught in the United States since the early 1900s – is a mechanistic view of the human body. It separates the mind from the body. The consequence is “specialization” in which doctors study and treat their particular organ system (or field of study) without regard to how it relates to the whole human being. It intends to soften or cure the effects of disease and symptoms.
Hence, it describes the human being by its structure from the microscopic components of a single cell to the overall anatomy of its physical appearance. It describes a “normal” state of being human by using agreed-upon criteria to define healthy structure and function. Depending on how much the structure or function varies from this normal state, this viewpoint goes on to define an “abnormal,” unhealthy, state of being human, describing it as “diseased” for the most severe variation from what is considered normal.
Pasteur’s theory that infectious organisms directly caused illness and disease won out over Bechamp’s theory that whether an infectious organism succeeded in causing illness depended on the body’s internal conditions, that is, an imbalanced environment. From this idea of starting at the endpoint came drugs that killed the infectious organisms after they had already established themselves within the body. The success from using this method convinced the educators of allopathic doctors to use it as the model for all “scientific” medical training. In effect, they held a powerful hammer and every medical problem from then on looked like a nail. The focus of mainstream medicine became the particular aspects of discomfort (symptoms) rather than the patient’s contribution in facilitating illness or disease through lifestyle (diet, exercise, tobacco habits), environmental exposures, reactions to stress, and so on.
For the mainstream approach, each diagnosis has its own particular remedy – essentially the same remedy for everybody with that condition. (Depression warrants an antidepressant drug, for example.)
By law, only a licensed doctor (or advanced-trained nurse, etc.) can diagnose disease (determine that a human being is in an abnormal state) and then treat the disease. For patients with slight variations in structure or function, the doctor may recommend nothing or minimal intervention. For those with more serious “disease,” there is a “fix” or treatment that is supposed to exactly match the abnormal condition.
The mainstream doctor focuses on Diagnosis and Treatment. “Treatment” in this context almost always refers to eliminating or minimizing the symptoms by using chemicals (drugs). Exceptions, of course, include surgeries to remove growths, repair fractures or internal organs, replace missing or diseased parts and so on. The treatments or surgeries often address the “causes” for the abnormal state (for example, by repairing a fracture or eliminating a constant exposure to lead) but not necessarily. A large number of abnormal states are diagnosed (described) without knowing the “cause” behind the abnormality, and the treatment therefore targets the typical symptoms of pain or inflammation that are diagnosed (described), but not the cause. The laboratory results and symptoms are treated rather than the patient.
Allopathic mainstream treatments for emergency or acute illnesses or symptoms work very well. These treatments generally fail for chronic problems and often make things worse (through drug side-effects or by missing the underlying environmental contributions).
Allopathic “mainstream” cancer doctors spend several years learning how to diagnose and treat patients with cancer. Cancers are named after the affected organ. Mainstream cancer doctors learn how to organize cancers into various categories by observing the differences between cancer cells and normal cells as seen through the microscope – and more recently, through genetic cellular probe differences. Although allopathic cancer doctors are taught that statistically, over time, patient outcomes vary for the different categories if the cancer is left untreated, (some cancers are indolent or slow to progress while others spread rapidly) they also are trained to recognize cancer as a (usually) quick-growing malignant tumor that – unless the doctor intervenes, and soon – will kill the patient.
For these allopathic cancer doctors, a malignant tumor, then, is a group of out-of-control cells for which the body can no longer regulate normal growth, normal function, or normal position in the body. Each malignant cell can split into two cells much faster than a normal, non-malignant cell, which is why a malignant tumor grows so large, so fast. Malignant tumors are fed directly from the circulating body fluids, and hitch a ride in the blood vessels to places where they don’t belong (metastasize) and then grow into the surrounding tissues. Allopathic doctors are taught that genetic mutations (errors in the DNA when the cell reproduces) are responsible, in part, for the reproduction and growth of cancer cells. These errors or mutations allow the cancerous cell to escape the usual proteins produced by a normal cell which are supposed to control a cell’s growth and reproduction.
Presently, allopathic cancer doctors must rely primarily on surgery (to cut out the cancer tumor), chemical agents (drugs known as chemotherapeutics), and radiation (targeted beams of very high frequency electromagnetic waves meant to kill, or shrink, the cancer tumors). At least, that is the hope. These methods have been used for a century, with little change other than the precision and intensity for the radiation beam, the increased number of chemicals shown to kill cancer cells (often killing normal cells in the process), and more advanced surgical techniques. For two decades, substances that block hormones (such as are found in breast cancer) have been introduced with limited success. More recently research is going on to test whether modified viruses can infiltrate and destroy cancer cells, and whether certain substances can affect (supercharge), or mimic, the immune system in order to eliminate cancer cells.
The most common technique used for cancer treatment is chemotherapy. Allopathic cancer doctors learn which chemicals tend to kill the cancer cells quicker than they tend to kill the patient’s normal cells (and, hopefully, tend to not kill the patient in the process). They learn how to minimize the usual side-effects, such as nausea or hair loss, or, if these side-effects are severe, to help the patient recover some degree of normalcy as rapidly as possible.
2. Philosophy of Non-Mainstream (Allopathic-trained) and Naturopathic doctors
This approach primarily views the human being from the context of function. In various forms, this philosophy antedates (precedes) early 20th Century allopathic medicine by seven thousand years. This viewpoint sees body, mind and spirit as inseparable components within a whole human being, operating within an energetic, invisible framework, variously called “chi” or “qi” in China and “prana” in India. (Only in the last few decades have scientists possessed the technology to measure and confirm the basic framework of the electromagnetic fields underlying the concepts.) Thus, over the millennia across the world, body, mind, and spirit existing in harmony equated to health, and imbalance or disharmony among them equated to disease. Even the Greek genius Hippocrates 2400 years ago – the “father of Western Medicine” whose oath to ethically heal others is often taken by modern allopathic physicians at medical school graduation – recognized that the elements creating health were not drugs (although he was a master in the use of herbs and plants) but rather a calm mind and attitude, nutritious diet, good hygiene, balanced work and home environment and exercise.
While acknowledging the basic science that underlies the allopathic description of the “normal” human being (from microscopic to gross level), this view also understands that what is “normal” relies on how the individual part functions within its local environment. This view sees the surrounding “milieu” as important in influencing the individual parts’ future course (for example, the interaction between the individual part and “foreign” substances, or biological materials like bacteria).
This view is interested in how a local group of cells, or tissues, interacts with other, more distant groups (which are themselves surrounded by their unique local environment). Finally, this view examines how an individual part responds to changes taking place in its local environment and to changes taking place in a distant environment.
For the non-mainstream approach, effort goes into finding out the cause for a patient’s symptoms or condition, the “diagnosis” being of secondary importance (being a convenient way to categorize the cluster of signs and symptoms, but of little use in determining the cause(s) for them). Depression warrants an explanation (ovarian or testicular hormonal imbalance, adrenal fatigue from multiple causes, a chronic pain condition, a situational stressor, a low thyroid, a deficiency of certain nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D3, and others) followed by the corrective measure for the imbalanced condition. (Rarely is depression caused by the lack of a pharmaceutical company’s antidepressant drug in the brain.)
For this approach, nothing exists in isolation. For example, the bacteria that interact with the intestinal lining – and whether there is sufficient friendly bacteria or whether there is a biofilm (mixed layer) of harmful microscopic organisms and their toxins – are important to normal organ function. A non-mainstream doctor typically examines this environment and, if abnormal, finds ways to help the patient correct the abnormal milieu and to maintain its healthy function.
The non-mainstream doctor focuses primarily on Promoting Health, secondarily on diagnosis and treatment. When treatment is necessary the non-mainstream doctor identifies insofar as possible the source of abnormality (within an organ for instance) to determine whether there is an interaction with an external environmental substance (a heavy metal like lead for instance), and, if so, to decide whether the cause for the abnormality is localized or is affecting the entire person, and whether there is an excess or deficiency involved. The patient in his or her environment is the focus for treatment, and the laboratory tests and symptoms are only secondary tools.
The approach taken by the naturopathic or allopathic non-mainstream doctor works well for chronic diseases because it takes into account the whole human being – mind, body, and spirit – and also endeavors to teach patients how to change their environment (personal and external) to prevent or reverse symptoms and the onset of diseases.
For acute and emergency conditions, the non-mainstream doctor still uses the drugs and tools that all doctors are taught to use. Even so, for some of these conditions the non-mainstream doctor may use “alternative” or “complementary” methods that work better or with fewer potential side-effects than the standard drugs.
Allopathic non-mainstream cancer doctors, who initially are taught the same science-based cancer curriculum as “mainstream” cancer doctors – and who generally agree with the allopathic gross-level and microscopic description of cancerous cells – over the last half-century differed with the mainstream doctors in the interpretation of how the cancerous cells form in the first place, emphasizing the environmental, nutritional, and energetic influences that trigger a normal cell to turn renegade. Cancer is no longer viewed by the organ involved but by the underlying weakness or disrupted milieu (environment) that allowed the abnormal cells to develop.
These doctors place more reliance on prevention (identifying the factors that turn-on a cell’s potential to become cancerous and teaching patients to avoid those factors) and, when a malignant neoplasm is identified, to place less reliance on drugs, radiation and surgery, and more emphasis on the use of nutrition, herbs and vitamins, and “energy” to eliminate or normalize the cancerous cells.
For these cancer doctors, the function of the body as a whole organism interacting with its environment plays the major role in cancer etiology. Based on the work of scientists – including Nobel-prize winners – over the last century, scientists and non-mainstream doctors learned the following:
- That “epigenetic” factors (proteins on the outside of the gene) were the switches that turned on, or off, cell growth regulators which either allow or suppress a cell’s ability to become malignant. That these factors (switches), in defiance of the mainstream philosophy that all inheritance requires the duplication of chromosomal DNA, are themselves acquired characteristics passed on through generations! That, just as many scientists predicted even in the face of ignorant and often vitriolic censure from fellow-scientists, one main reason for cancer to develop was the presence (or absence) of certain nutritional nutrients – such as B-vitamins – during pregnancy which influenced the “epigenetic” trigger to itself suppress (or turn-on) the parts of the gene’s DNA that create the cancer cell (as well as heart disease and other chronic diseases).4, 5, 6
- That every cell in the body instantaneously communicates with every other cell through electromagnetic mechanisms which determine – and take precedence over – the biochemical environment and activity that controls each cell. That the biochemical products formed in and by the cell, and likewise formed at the level of the tissue and the organ, behave according to the direction of the electron’s spin (clockwise or counterclockwise) which is determined by magnetic fields in and around the cell.7, 8
- That chronic diseases – whether cancer, heart disease, Type II Diabetes or others – depend on multiple factors experienced throughout a lifetime, from in utero to advanced age.
That some of these factors include tiny cumulative exposures to environmental toxins, examples of which originate: from heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury; from endocrine and hormonal disrupters in the food and water supply including pharmaceutical pills excreted into, or flushed down, the toilet and remaining in the drinking water supply after processing and return to the home; from genetically modified foods containing a herbicide within the food’s DNA; from radiation exposure at high altitudes, to exposure from dental and medical x-rays (mammography and CAT scans); from prescribed antibiotics, and antibiotics and hormones used in factory-faming of animals for meat; and so on.3
That some of these factors include critical levels of certain nutrients, at levels often well-beyond those recommended by mainstream doctors. For instance, as a way to prevent or control cancer, for decades non-mainstream doctors have advocated Vitamin D3 – which is actually a hormone formed from the reaction of skin cells to sunlight – at levels three times higher than considered “normal” by mainstream doctors. Although many mainstream doctors are still ignorant of the fact that Vitamin D3 at the correct level can help prevent cancer, others are learning about its benefits and beginning to recommend Vitamin D3 to their patients.9 Several other nutrients are of equal importance to the healthy functioning of a human being which non-mainstream cancer doctors recognize as crucial.
These non-mainstream cancer doctors believe that – because our body functions as a whole unit – and not as isolated organs – and therefore depends on a great many conditions being optimal over our lifetime, they may choose to focus on a particular strategy (for instance, nutrition) to help normalize bodily function (keeping in mind that every particular intervention must account for other interactions among the many factors that influence the whole body – that is, no cell or organ, and no chemical or electromagnetic process, exists or functions in isolation).
What’s a Person to Do?
To answer “What’s a person to do?” we will present articles which provide you with a better understanding of what cancer is and what causes it, as well as novel cancer detection and prevention strategies. We will provide assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of mainstream and non-mainstream treatments. Along the way, we will examine the politics that distort public cancer education, confusing doctors and the public alike.
Our intent is: (1) to provide a balanced education on the benefits and limitations of conventional medical mainstream (standard-of-care) cancer treatments; (2) to give an unbiased presentation on the most promising clinical and laboratory research, from both the United States and the international community, which demonstrate effective non-mainstream (complementary and alternative) approaches to preventing, managing, and reversing cancer; (3) to offer information on methods that optimally integrate both mainstream (standard-of-care) and non-mainstream modalities in cancer treatment and the prevention of cancer recurrence.
Our goal is not to “throw out the baby with the bath water” by ignoring or denying the utility and need for many of the mainstream medical interventions. Instead, we intend to give the evidence for “complementing” the handful of effective mainstream interventions with non-mainstream interventions which have proven to be just as effective, or more so, while offering fewer side-effects, improved quality-of-life, or better long-term survival.
In these articles we plan to you give you a practical road-map, including links to additional resources, to enable you to take charge of your own health and to make decisions that are right for you and your family regarding cancer prevention, cancer treatment, and living with cancer.
* The Coalition for Advanced Cancer Treatment and Prevention a project of The National Fund for Alternative Medicine
- Perera FP, “Environment and cancer: who are susceptible?” Science, 1997, 278(5340), Pgs 1069-1073.
- Szyf M, “DNA Methylation and Cancer: Therapeutic Implications,” Cancer Letters, 2004, 10(211), Pgs 133-143.
- Weaver IC, et al, “Epigenetic Programming by Maternal Behavior,” Nature Neuorscience, 2004, 7(8), Pgs 847-854.
- Weaver IC, et al, “Maternal Care Effects of the Hippocampal Transcriptome and Anxiety-mediated Behaviors in the Offspring That Are Reversible in Adulthood,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 2006, 103(9), Pgs 3480-3485.
- Becker R, Selden G, The Body Electric: Electromagnetism & the Foundation of Life, William Morrow & Co., NY, NY, 1985.
- Philpott WH, Kalita DK, Brain Allergies: The Psychonutrient and Magnetic Connections, Keats Publishing, New Canaan, CT, 1981.
- Bauer SR, Hankinson SE, et al, “Plasma Vitamin D Levels, Menopause, and Risk of Breast Cancer: Dose-response Meta-analysis of Prospective Studies,” Medicine, 2013, 92, Pgs 123-131.