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Integrative Cancer Care

By Jessica Needle, ND

Conventional treatments for cancer are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormones and targeted biological therapy.  For those seeking alternatives or additions to increase efficacy or to mitigate side effects, a wide array of choices exist.  Interventions which have been scientifically studied and have shown positive outcomes range from drinking green tea to receiving acupuncture to applying ozone oil to the skin.

Whether a patient chooses natural medicine approaches as stand-alone treatments or as adjuncts to traditional oncology, his or her choices should be respected.  Some people seek complementary/alternative care as a first-line therapy due to their familiarity with natural medicine while others come to it after exhausting the options in the conventional system.  Alternative medicine can improve a patient’s health at any point in the recovery process, while conventional care may be advisable at various times as well.

In his book, Love, Medicine and Miracles, surgeon Bernie Siegel chronicles his work with exceptional cancer patients—those who recover from cancer and stay in remission for long periods.  One factor which contributes to their success is belief that the treatment will work, whether the treatment is chemotherapy or art therapy.  Patients who embark on a natural medicine protocol should be prepared to back up that belief with a commitment to making their health a priority.  Those who are self-motivated and proactive about reclaiming their health will fare best.

An integrative cancer care plan will likely include changes to the diet.  These changes could be minimal or radical, depending on what the patient was eating prior to seeking treatment.  A vegetarian diet is well-established as being cancer preventive.  Diets with animal products promote inflammation and and create an acidic internal environment.  Acidity is one factor which has been theorized to allow cancer to grow unchecked. 

It is important to change the environment that gave rise to cancer so it does not recur.

Vitamin C is a treatment which can make the internal terrain less hospitable to cancer cells.  Pills and powders provide vitamin C in low doses where it acts as an anti-oxidant, a substance that stops cellular damage in the body.  Higher doses are given intravenously and lead to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) production.  Peroxide is toxic to cancer cells because they are deficient in the enzyme needed to convert H2O2 to hydrogen and water.  Vitamin C can interact with chemotherapy agents, often working synergistically and making them more effective; for a few drugs there will be interference. 

Other cancer-fighting substances in the natural pharmacopeia include enzymes (papain, pancreatin), neurotransmitters (melatonin), mushrooms (reishi, turkey tail), and herbs (Boswellia, curcumin).

Detoxification may also be part of a patient’s prescription.  Strategies vary from spending time in the sauna to massaging the lymphatic system to taking coffee enemas to removing heavy metals with pills or intravenous therapy.

Treating patients with dietary changes, nutritional supplementation and detoxification can result in markers showing improved health:  lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduced pain and pain medications, less shortness of breath, reduced tumor size as shown on imaging, tumor markers returned to normal, longevity beyond the statistical average, and most importantly, improved quality of life.

Jessica Needle is a naturopathic doctor at Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568.2598.

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