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Rethinking Cancer Therapy
by Dr. Nicolas Kats
How to Prevent & Treat Cancer With Natural Medicine By Michael
Murray, ND; Tim Birdsall, ND; Joseph Pizzorno, ND; Paul Reilly,
MD (Riverhead Books, 2002) 415 pages: $16.00 paperback
Is There A Revolution in Cancer Treatment?
Cancer treatment in the US is going through a revolution. This
new approach includes the integration of natural medicine at a
growing number of hospitals. During the last four generations,
the treatment of cancer was dominated by modern medicine. Three
therapies were offered -- chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
All are highly invasive and may have severe side-effects. Yet
overall cancer mortality remains a dissatisfying 50%, and both
the severity of treatment and high mortality rate of cancer has
fuelled a lively public interest in various natural therapies
such as diet, herbs, supplements, detoxification, and so on. Because
MDs typically have had no training in natural medicine, and because
there were few scientific studies supporting or disproving natural
medicine, such approaches were routinely rejected.
For a long time, this rejection compelled the public to obtain
natural medicine separately. Hence the term 'alternative medicine'.
Too often, the result was a hodgepodge of valid therapies and
junk. All sort of therapies were tried and changed at whim. Many
cancer sufferers went to clinics in Mexico or the Bahamas to obtain
treatments banned in the US. Most alternative therapists themselves
did not understand modern medicine and were unable to work in
concert with medical treatments. In short, there was little or
no communication between MDs and natural heath professionals.
Despite these limitations, the public continued at a prodigious
rate to continue with the dual approach of medical treatment and
some form of natural medicine. In response to such public interest
in natural medicine, the pharmaceutical industry, national health
departments, cancer researchers, supplement and herb companies
funded and carried out numerous scientific studies to test the
validity of various natural therapies in various settings. The
result has been a vast outpouring of literature showing that many
natural therapies are of great value in treating many diseases,
The resulting flood of scientific validation, coupled with huge,
ongoing public interest, has largely driven the recent movement
which favours the integration of natural medicine in the treatment
of cancer. A number of U.S. hospitals now offer integrated cancer
centers where natural and modern medicines work in collaboration,
and such centres now run in San Francisco, Tulsa, Minneapolis,
Seattle, Zion, Illinois, Goshen, Indiana, Portland, Oregon and
Hampton Roads. The last five are run by Cancer Centers of America,
which is dedicated to integrated cancer care. Integration offers
the hospitals enormous advantages. Natural medicine improves the
efficiency of modern therapies, and drastically minimizes side
effects. The process and outcome for patients are much more favourable.
The atmosphere now is that those hospitals offering integrated
care are increasingly seen as leaders, on the cutting edge of
progress in health care, and I expect these hospitals to show
better survival rates than their competitors. Integration is what
many cancer patients want, and they will be drawn to hospitals
is the context in which I discuss How to Prevent and Treat
Cancer with Natural Medicine. The four authors of the book,
Drs Murray, Birdsall, Pizzorno and Reilly, as NDs (naturopathic
physicians), are uniquely placed to contribute to the dialogue
of integrated care. This is because the ND and MD have the same
intensive training in the basic medical sciences. No other natural
health profession systematically does this. This is why the ND
understands modern medicine. In addition, the ND specializes in
a number of natural therapies, including diet, supplements, herbal
medicine, chiropractic, physiotherapy, etc, most largely proven.
This book contributes to the dialogue of integration and shows
ways natural medicine complements modern medicine. Without this
dialogue, modern medicine will tend to remain isolated, unable
to include natural medicine. A consequence is that the public
will continue to seek natural therapies elsewhere. An example
is the problem of the devastating side effects of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy selectively inhibits or kills rapidly dividing cells,
a characteristic of cancer. Certain normal tissues also have this
characteristic -- hair follicles, red and white blood cells, and
the lining of the digestive tract. Chemotherapy fails to distinguish
between these healthy tissues and cancer, and it attacks both.
Side effects include hair loss, anemia (inability to oxygenate
all tissues and remove carbon dioxide, general fatigue), depleted
white blood cells (or immunodeficiency, resulting in vulnerability
to opportunistic infections and requiring massive antibiotics,
and impairment of the immune system's ability to recognize and
kill cancer cells), and digestive dysfunction (nausea, vomiting,
diarrhea, and impaired absorption of nutrients). These side effects
can be severe or fatal. They impair or negate the therapeutic
objective of chemotherapy, which is to inhibit or destroy cancer
Modern medicine has long struggled with this problem. Natural
medicine is effective at greatly reducing and repairing these
side effects. In discussing this, the authors always cite therapies
proven by studies. For radiation and surgery the dynamics are
similar, and these examples make clear the case for the integration
of cancer treatment.
Another nice feature of the book is the material on supplements
and herbs. Protein smoothies, so important for weight maintenance
and for immune support, is covered. Proteolytic enzymes are discussed
in the context of surgery, metastasis, angiogenesis and lymphedema.
Aloe vera gel is suggested for radiation burns. The immunostimulant
properties of mushrooms are covered, with honours given to maitake.
In the section on prevention, diet is central. Fiber, fruits
and vegetables, whole vs. refined carbohydrates, animal meats,
raw vs. processed polyunsaturated fatty acids, are discussed,
always with reference to studies. This section is valuable both
for healthy people interested in prevention and as part of the
long term plan for people with cancer.
An illusion given by the book is its title How to Prevent
and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine. This title suggests
that the reader will learn "how to" treat cancer with natural
medicine. This won't work. Cancer is complex. There are many kinds.
There are various stages, from localized to metastasized. The
cancer, the treatments, and the person's overall health, constantly
change. There may not be much time to act. Self-treatment, guided
by this or other books, is inappropriate. Most cancer patients
require the reassurance of competent professional guidance. The
book is best used as an educational tool.
The oncologist that picks up this book to learn "how to" use
natural therapies will not get far. As a medical doctor, s/he
does not have the training to understand natural medicine and
will be an alien in a strange land, therefore likely be disappointed.
Regardless, even for this practitioner the value of this book
is the demonstration that these therapies are scientifically proven,
and that they effectively enhance encological work.
A limitation of the book is its focus on cancer. The successful
treatment of cancer requires also treating the whole person. In
other words there are two ways to approach cancer -- the cancer
itself, divorced from the person -- and the person apart from
the cancer. For example, how to treat a person with cancer and
a history of 20 years of digestive deficiency? Treating the cancer
is self-evident, but what about the digestive deficiency? When
digestion is poor the absorption of life-giving nutrients is compromised.
If the problem continues, the prospects are poor. Resolving this
problem will help the person and improve his prospects. NDs, practitioners
of traditional Chinese medicine, and herbalists are very good
at looking at the whole person. This is a tremendous strength.
MDs, along with the media and the public, tend to be highly focused
on cancer and to exclude the person.
Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are highly reductive. They
may be characterized by one word: destructive. When repair and
regeneration are needed, modern medicine is very weak. Natural
medicine is the opposite. It excels in repair and regeneration.
It is constructive. It has very few therapies that are intentionally
used in a destructive way. These two ways of medicine -- one destructive,
the other constructive -- form a striking polarity of opposite
paradigms. Until recently they were separate. Given the limitations
of modern medicine it is essential to incorporate natural medicine.
The integration of natural health professionals at hospital cancer
clinics is enormously appropriate and highly welcome. How to
Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine is a valuable
contribution to this revolution.
Dr Nicolas Kats, a naturopathic physician, lives and practices
in the Republic of Ireland.