Improve your outcome with the latest approaches…
Cancer is a complex disease—elusive and difficult to control, let alone cure. To get the best possible outcome, you want to have all hands on deck.
More than the conventional approach: While modern oncology has given us powerful weapons to fight cancer—drugs, surgery and radiation that attack tumors head on—the most effective integrative cancer therapies focus on the cancer patient, bolstering his/her natural defenses to help suppress tumor growth. Combining these approaches not only fills in gaps but also creates a powerful synergy.
BUILD YOUR DEFENSES
While there are a multitude of integrative approaches now available for cancer patients, ranging from acupuncture and massage to aromatherapy and music therapy, it’s crucial to fortify your body’s defenses to fight the inflammation associated with cancer. Here’s how…
• Diet. Strive for a plant-based diet (especially cruciferous vegetables and berries—both are extremely rich in cancer-fighting nutrients) with plenty of whole grains, nuts and omega-3–rich fatty fish (omega-3s have been linked to reduced cancer risk). Cut back on animal proteins and sugar—these foods are associated with cancer-promoting inflammation.
• Exercise. Try to get 150 minutes weekly of moderately vigorous exercise (such as brisk walking) to help optimize your body’s own cancer-fighting abilities. An ideal regimen could include some aerobic activity (such as cycling)…some stretching (such as yoga or tai chi)…and some strength training (with hand weights or resistance bands).
• Stress reduction. The first weeks after diagnosis are likely to be the most stressful of your life.
There are a myriad of ways to control stress, including meditation, hypnosis, yoga and tai chi, but one method that seems particularly effective is progressive muscle relaxation, which involves systematically relaxing all the muscle groups in the body, one after another. Twenty minutes daily has been shown to provide major benefits to people with cancer. For a free video demonstrating progressive muscle relaxation, click here.
• Herbs and supplements. While adopting the inflammation-fighting lifestyle practices described earlier, anti-inflammatory herbs, such as curcumin and boswellia, can be powerful aids.
In addition, a typical herb-and-supplement regimen for a colon cancer patient, for example, may include some combination of the following—vitamin D, green tea extract, resveratrol, grape seed extract, probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids.
Important: For specific advice on herbs and supplements, work with a skilled, experienced complementary/alternative doctor or herbalist (see below).
GETTING RID OF THE TUMOR
While conventional methods, such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, can be quite effective, they have important downsides, too. For example, chemotherapy and radiation not only have harsh side effects, including nausea and hair loss, but they also suppress the immune system at a time when it should be working overtime to fight the cancer.
Newer alternatives: The immune-suppressing effects of chemo and radiation can be avoided with thermal ablation. With this approach, doctors insert a needle into the tumor, often guided by computed tomography (CT) imaging, to kill the cancer cells with heat (radiofrequency or microwave ablation) or freezing (cryoablation). Irreversible electroporation (the NanoKnife) uses electrical pulses to kill cancer cells by disrupting their cell membranes. These methods are also much less invasive and traumatic than surgery.
Right now, ablation is mainly used for tumors that can’t be treated with conventional surgery, due to their location or number, and for isolated metastases in the lung and liver. But ablation and electroporation have the potential to replace a considerable amount of surgery.
Scientists are actively developing new medications that help undo the tumor’s ability to produce chemicals that inactivate the body’s cancer-fighting immune cells.
Examples: Ipilimumab (Yervoy) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) have been approved for the treatment of melanoma. Clinical trials to investigate their use against a wider range of malignancies, including certain kinds of lung cancer, and bladder, colon and metastatic prostate cancer, are also under way. For details on clinical trials using these drugs, check ClinicalTrials.gov.
Because these drugs target molecular mechanisms driving cancer, they are far less toxic than conventional chemotherapy. The drugs are, however, extremely expensive (costing up to $150,000 a year). If insurance won’t cover the drug and a clinical trial is not available, sometimes the pharmaceutical manufacturer will donate it to a patient without the financial resources to purchase it so that it can be administered by his/her oncologist.
Getting the help you need
It’s risky for cancer patients to try to treat themselves with integrative approaches. Some therapies, including certain herbs, such as St. John’s wort, may even interfere with conventional treatment. But finding oncologists, herbalists and other health-care professionals who are knowledgeable about the latest approaches in integrative cancer care is also challenging.
To find a health-care professional who specializes in integrative oncology: Ask your doctor for a referral or consult the Society for Integrative Oncology, When you find an experienced integrative professional, ask him/her to work with your primary oncologist in coordinating your care.