International Health News

Cancer: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

by Hans R. Larsen, MSc ChE

Hans LarsenCancer is the most feared disease in the western world today. In the United States alone, almost 10,000 people die from it every week and every day another 3,000 hear the dreaded sentence "You have cancer"(1).Since 1971 more than 27 billion dollars have been spent in the United States on research to determine the causes of cancer and to find effective cures(2). The results are not encouraging. In the last 15 years the age-adjusted incidence rate for all cancers has gone up over 18% among men and over 12% among women. Mortality rates have risen by 3% and 6% respectively for men and women. The incidence of breast cancer has risen by 30%, largely due to earlier detection, but this has not resulted in better survival rates. The number of new prostate cancer cases is up 66% and mortality up 14%. Lung cancer among women is up 65% and mortality up by 75%. Mortality rates are down for some less common cancers such as bladder, rectum, and stomach cancer(3). Early treatment of Hodgkin's disease has also saved many lives; but unfortunately, also vastly increases the risk of developing lymphoma later on(4,5).

The sobering, inescapable fact is that conventional medicine is losing the war on cancer. It is now expected that this dreaded disease will top heart disease as the most common cause of death by the year 2000. This means that one out of every three Americans will, at some point in their lives, be told that they have cancer; of those more than half will die from the disease within 5 years(6).Is there any light at all at the end of the tunnel? Indeed there is. Cancer is predominantly a disease of western civilization and is largely due to the way we feed and treat our bodies and our wanton disregard for the environment. Even the medical establishment agrees that cancer is almost totally preventable and that 80-90% of all cancers have their origin in poor dietary practices, smoking or exposure to known carcinogens(1). While the hope that conventional medicine will find a cure for cancer is rapidly fading, there are now alternative cancer treatments which are very effective.

The greatest single reason for the devastating toll that cancer takes is ignorance. Ignorance about what cancer is and what causes it, ignorance about how it can be prevented, and ignorance about options for treatment. Cancer is not some mysterious disease that strikes the unlucky out of the blue. No, cancer develops for very specific reasons, it takes a very long time - 10 years or more to manifest, and it can be beaten every step of the way.

What is Cancer?
The great majority of cancers are carcinomas - tumors which develop in surface tissues or linings of internal organs; in other words, in the parts of the body most vulnerable to attack by carcinogens and free radicals. Breast, lung, and prostate cancers are all carcinomas as are skin cancers and intestinal cancers. The development of a cancer tumor follows a very specific pattern.

In the initiation stage DNA is attacked by a carcinogen or free radical which causes a mutation in one of our genes or chromosomes(7). This attack most often occurs in organs which have been severely stressed by abuse, improper diet or a lingering infection. For instance, heavy smokers are prone to developing lung cancer because they continually abuse their lungs; heavy drinkers get liver cancer, and people who eat a diet lacking in fiber and too rich in fat and protein tend to get colon cancer.

Normally, the body's own enzyme repair mechanisms will quickly correct the genetic error and the mutation process stops. However, once in awhile, the error goes undetected and if the mutated gene survives for five or six cell division cycles an abnormal or precancerous cell is formed. A strong immune system may still destroy these precancerous cells but if it does not then the cells enter the promotion stage where they start reproducing rapidly and change their properties to those characteristic of malignant cells. If the cancer cells survive the promotion stage they will enter the progression phase in which they grow large enough to develop their own blood supply and defense system and eventually grow into a full blown carcinoma. If the tumor is not removed at this point, either by conventional or alternative means, it may, in time, spread to other areas of the body with usually fatal results.

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What Causes Cancer?
The major causes of cancer are a faulty diet, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation. It is estimated that 60% of all cancers in men and 40% of all cancers in women are caused by a diet that is too high in fat and proteins and too low in fruits, vegetables and fiber. Fats are believed to promote cancer rather than initiate it and animal fats and hydrogenated fats are particularly detrimental. A high intake of protein has been associated with an increased risk of many types of cancer and a high sugar intake significantly increases the risk of breast cancer. Smoked, pickled, salt-cured and barbecued foods are also potent cancer initiators while alcohol is strongly implicated in the promotion of already initiated cancer cells(1,8).

Smoking and the exposure to second-hand smoke accounts for about 30% of all cancer deaths and it is estimated that 350,000 men and women die every year in the United States from smoking related illnesses - a deplorable and totally preventable waste of lives and healthcare dollars! Pesticides and other toxic chemicals are increasingly implicated as cancer initiators. Asbestos has been strongly linked to lung cancer and benzene to leukemia and bone marrow cancers. Chlorination of drinking water is another potent cause of cancer and is estimated to cause 15% of all cancers of the rectum and 9% of all bladder cancers. Excessive exposure to solar radiation and electromagnetic fields can also lead to cancer(8).Although these causes of cancer are many and varied they have one thing in common - they are almost all avoidable!

Prevention of Cancer
Between 80-90% of all cancers are preventable; but it takes knowledge and determination to act on this fact. The most important measures to prevent cancer are to eat a healthy diet, avoid smoking and second-hand smoke, and avoid exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation. Maintaining a strong immune system and particularly an abundant supply of dietary antioxidants are equally important.

A healthy diet is one that contains an abundance of fresh, preferably organically-grown fruits and vegetables. The daily diet should be rich in fiber and low in fat. Protein intake should be moderate and red meat consumption should be limited. Sugar, alcohol, margarine and pickled, smoked, salted, and barbecued foods should be avoided.

Getting daily exercise and avoiding excessive psychological stress are also important preventive measures. Lack of physical activity has recently been implicated in the development of both breast and colon cancer(9). A lack of sunlight has also been implicated in the development of breast and colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis(10). It is important to get at least one half hour of unprotected sunlight every day and remember - sunscreens block the formation of vital vitamin D and do not protect against melanoma or squamous cell carcinoma(11).

Antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium are all recognized cancer fighters. They work by neutralizing the free radicals and toxins before they can initiate the gene mutation which eventually leads to cancer. Numerous scientific studies have shown that many people have a low antioxidant intake and that this vastly increases their risk of cancer. Other studies have shown that supplementing with antioxidants can significantly lower the risk of developing many types of cancer(7,12-21).

A strong immune system is an essential defense against cancer. A healthy diet will go a long way towards giving you a healthy immune system, but for optimum protection most progressive researchers recommend supplementation with appropriate amounts of vitamins, minerals, and especially antioxidants(12,13,22).

So, by eating a healthy diet, taking the appropriate supplements, avoiding smoking and alcohol, keeping your stress level low, getting lots of exercise, and staying far away from radiation and toxic chemicals you can reduce your chances of developing cancer by 80-90%. However, what do you do if you or a loved one already has cancer? The main thing to do is not to panic, to carefully evaluate your treatment options and above all, not to lose hope. Cancer can be beaten!

Conventional Treatment

Conventional cancer treatment is based on the premise that cancer is an enemy that must be killed even if the therapy causes the patient great discomfort and perhaps even death. Alternative treatment, on the other hand, is based on the philosophy that cancer is an indication that we are mistreating our body and that cancer can be contained or reversed by giving the body all the help it needs in order to heal itself. Not surprisingly, these two philosophies have led to totally different methods of treatment.

Irrespective of which treatment you ultimately choose, there are certain steps that should be taken as soon as you are diagnosed with cancer.

  1. Gather all the information you can about your particular type of cancer and the options for treating it. Contact support organizations such as Cancer Victors and Friends and get plugged into a network of people who "have been there and survived".
  2. Get a clear understanding of what your doctor proposes to do and if you feel at all uncomfortable with that, get a second opinion. Do not omit to investigate the options for alternative therapy.
  3. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, begin boosting your immune system immediately. The late Dr. Linus Pauling recommended that all cancer patients start vitamin supplementation as early as possible. The preferred regimen, formulated by Canadian Dr. Abram Hoffer, involves a daily intake of 12,000 mg vitamin-C, 800 IU vitamin-E, 1500 mg vitamin-B3 (nicotinic acid or nicotinamide), 25 or 50 times the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of other B vitamins, and 200 micrograms of selenium. NOTE: It is necessary to start with smaller amounts of the supplements and build up gradually(23).
  4. Cancer is usually a rapidly progressing disease so time is of the essence. However, being stampeded into the wrong treatment may later prove to be a fatal mistake. Do your homework, talk to former cancer patients, and then select the treatment you firmly believe will help you and stick with it.

The conventional medical establishment is committed to a policy of "cutting, burning, or poisoning" you in their endeavour to rid you of cancer. So if you wish to evaluate gentler, and in many cases far more effective therapies, you usually won't get much help from your medical doctor. The "cancer industry" is very big indeed with an estimated annual revenue of over 50 billion dollars. This conglomerate does not take kindly to competition and, together with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), has pretty well managed to drive alternative cancer clinics out of the United States. However, you will find many very professional and highly effective alternative clinics in Europe, Mexico, the Bahamas, New Zealand, etc. Conventional cancer treatment has its place in the fight against cancer, but quite often it does more harm than good. The three main modalities of conventional treatment are: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Surgery can be quite effective when it comes to the removal of easily accessible, relatively small, early stage, localized tumors as for instance in the breast, colon, uterus or bladder. Some cases of stomach cancer also respond well to surgery. Surgery is no longer the only method for treating melanoma and skin cancer as there are now very effective herbal-based ointments which will remove the tumors in a relatively short time with no danger of metastasis. Surgery, of course, does not address at all the underlying cause of the cancer. So unless appropriate lifestyle and dietary changes are made, the cancer is likely to recur. Surgery and even biopsies also carry the very real danger of spreading the cancer to other organs in the body. The success rate for surgery can be improved by boosting the immune system before the operation and by timing it right. For instance, recent research has shown that breast cancer surgery is far more likely to be successful if carried out in the second half of the menstrual cycle(24,25).

Chemotherapy is the least valuable and most dangerous of all conventional treatment modes. It uses a variety of highly toxic drugs to kill the cancer cells. Perhaps the greatest problem with chemotherapy is that it seriously weakens the immune system just at the time when it is needed the most. Chemotherapy has been used with some success in the treatment of Hodgkin's disease and certain lymphomas and leukemias. However, chemotherapy is generally not useful in the treatment of the most common cancers like breast, colon, and lung cancer. Dr. John Cairns of the Harvard School of Public Health estimates that only a small percentage of the thousands of patients undergoing chemotherapy actually benefit from it(26). Other cancer researchers are less charitable in their opinion of chemotherapy.

"Physicians are intimidated into using regimens which they know do not work. One of the most glaring examples is chemotherapy which does not work for the majority of cancers" says Dr. Alan Levin, Professor of Immunology at the University of California. Professor Levin goes on to add that physicians "are coerced into using it by special interest groups which have vested interests in the profits of the drug industry." Drugs used in chemotherapy have devastating side effects and patients undergoing chemotherapy, apart from being thoroughly miserable, frequently die of pneumonia, common infections or other cancers(27).

Radiation therapy uses high-intensity x-rays to prevent cancer cells from reproducing; in the process it also kills off healthy cells, depresses the immune system, causes very unpleasant side effects, and greatly increases the risk of developing leukemia later on. Dr. John Cairns of the Harvard School of Public Health believes that "the majority of cancers cannot be cured by radiation because the dose of x-rays required to kill all the cancer cells would also kill the patient." Early studies at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center concluded that patients who received no radiation lived longer than those who were irradiated. Radiation therapy can be useful in early Hodgkin's disease, and in treating localized tumors of the prostate, cervix, head, neck, and larynx. In most other cases, it is of limited value and causes more harm than good(26,27). Overall, radiation and chemotherapy probably prevent less than three per cent of the half a million deaths from cancer that occur every year in the USA(26).

The failure of conventional medicine in coming to grips with cancer is perhaps best illustrated by looking at lung cancer. Lung cancer is now the most common cause of death from cancer. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimate that 149,000 men and women died from the disease in 1993 in the United States alone. The survival rate for lung cancer patients has not changed between 1973 and 1987 and remains at around 13 per cent. This means that eight out of ten people who are diagnosed with lung cancer today will be dead within five years. Researchers at the NCI admit that the current, conventional treatment of lung cancer is ineffective and state "The lack of improvement in survival underscores the importance of lung cancer prevention and early diagnosis, because various therapeutic interventions have had relatively little effect on lung cancer survival in the general population."(28)Before you agree to surgery, chemotherapy or radiation ask your doctor what your chances are of immediate and five-year survival, investigate your other options (alternative therapies), and then make up your mind.

Alternative Treatment

Because of the poor results obtained with conventional therapies and the great harm they can cause, alternative therapies are gaining in acceptance and popularity. These therapies are all based on assisting the body's own defense systems in destroying the cancer cells. They use various methods to achieve this with most of them requiring a great deal of commitment and determination on the part of the patient. As in the case of conventional treatments, very few, if any, controlled experiments have been carried out on the value of the various therapies, so testimony as to their effectiveness usually comes from former patients and is spread by word of mouth. One notable exception is the megadose vitamin therapy pioneered by Drs. Linus Pauling, Ewan Cameron, and Abram Hoffer.

Megadose vitamin therapy involves the ingestion of large amounts of vitamins. This treatment has been extensively evaluated at the Vale of Leven Hospital in Scotland under the supervision of Dr. Cameron. The experiments found that terminal cancer patients who received large, daily doses of vitamin C along with their regular treatment lived much longer than patients who did not receive vitamin C; they also had less pain and in general, a much improved quality of life(29). Vitamin C has many properties which makes it an excellent cancer fighter. It is a detoxifying agent, an antioxidant, and helps to produce antibodies. It is also very important in preventing growing tumors from invading adjacent tissue(30).

Dr. Hoffer of Victoria, Canada later expanded on the Pauling/Cameron treatment protocol by adding large amounts of vitamin E, vitamin B-3, other B vitamins, beta-carotene, and some minerals. Those of Dr. Hoffer's cancer patients who followed this regimen lived, on the average, about 16 times longer than those who did not(31).

In January 1994, Dr. Donald Lamm and his colleagues at the West Virginia University School of Medicine reported that daily megadose vitamin therapy significantly lessens the risk of recurrence in bladder cancer patients. Patients who received the therapy, on the average, had less than half the tumor recurrence rate than did patients who did not receive it. Dr. Lamm's vitamin combination included multivitamins (RDA dosages) plus 40,000 IU vitamin A, 100 mg vitamin B-6, 2,000 mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, and 90 mg zinc(32). The megadose vitamin therapy, so far, has only been evaluated in combination with conventional cancer treatments.

Metabolic and herbal therapies aim at cleansing the body, boosting the immune system, and assisting the body in ridding itself of the cancer and the toxins created by the breakdown of the tumor.

The Gerson therapy was formulated by Dr. Max Gerson, a German physician who came to the United States just before World War II. Dr. Gerson believed that cancer results from a faulty metabolism and long-term exposure to pesticides and other environmental pollutants. His treatment involves a detoxification program and a meat-free, salt-free, and low-fat diet along with copious quantities of fresh fruit and vegetable juices as well as various supplements. The Gerson program is particularly effective for melanoma, lymphomas, and cancers of the liver, pancreas and colon. Success has also been achieved with inoperable brain cancer, metastasized breast cancer, and prostate cancer. The Gerson therapy is available on an in-patient basis at the Centro Hospitalario Internationale del Pacifico in Tijuana, Mexico(33).

The Hoxsey therapy was developed by a self-taught American healer, Harry Hoxsey. By the 1950s, the Hoxsey Cancer Clinic in Dallas was the world's largest private cancer clinic. In 1960, however, the American Medical Association, the National Cancer Institute, and the Food and Drug Administration managed to close down the clinic. It later reopened in Tijuana, Mexico as the Bio-Medical Center. The clinic treats all kinds of cancer on an out-patient basis only; best results have been achieved with lymphoma, melanoma, and skin cancer; however, patients with breast, cervical, prostate, colon, and lung cancers have also been successfully treated. The Hoxsey therapy includes the total avoidance of pork, vinegar, tomatoes, carbonated drinks, alcohol, bleached flour, and refined sugar. Various supplements are also given with the main component of the treatment being the Hoxsey tonic which consists of several different herbs, many with potent anti-cancer effects(34).

Immune therapies are used in both conventional and alternative treatment protocols. The Livingston Foundation Medical Center in San Diego treats cancer patients with various individually-tailored vaccines, gamma globulin, and a vegetarian diet with vitamin and mineral supplements. The Immunology Research Center in Freeport, Bahamas uses injections of immune substances to augment the body's own immune system and claims good success with breast, colon, kidney, and bladder cancer. The Burzynski Research Institute in Houston, Texas uses injections or supplements of peptides and amino acid derivatives occurring naturally in the body to augment the body's biochemical defense system and reprogram cancer cells so that they revert to normal development(35,36).

Other alternative therapies are based on the use of specific formulations such as the Canadian herbal remedy Essiac which has been used with apparent success since 1922. Shark cartilage has been found to be particularly effective against brain cancer and prostate, liver and breast metastases. It works by interfering with the tumor's ability to create a vitally needed blood supply. Hydrazine sulfate is particularly effective in combatting cachexia, a deadly condition which causes many cancer patients to starve to death. It has also been used with success in Russia to treat lymphatic cancer(37,38,39,40).

There are many highly respected alternative cancer therapies in use in Europe. The late Johanna Budwig, MD advocated a combination of sulfur-containing protein and essential fatty acids to treat many types of cancer. Dr. Hans Nieper, MD in Hanover, Germany uses a vegetarian diet and various combinations of vitamins, minerals, laetrile, and special vaccines. Dr. Nieper claims that 45 to 48 per cent of those of his patients who have been declared incurable by conventional medicine have their cancer under control after 18 months or less on his program. The Breuss Clinic in Hanover, Germany uses lengthy juice fasts and a totally protein-free diet to bring many cancers under control(41,42,43).

The Centre for Advanced Medicine in Auckland, New Zealand has excellent facilities for treating heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. Traditional Chinese medicine and ayurvedic medicine also have specific treatments for many cancers; the ancient technique of Qi Gong has been found to be particularly effective (44,45).

It is clear that there is an enormous range of alternative therapies available to aid in the fight against cancer. The challenge is to find the right one, the one you believe will work for you, and then commit to it. The fact that your conventional doctor may have told you that your illness is terminal and that nothing can be done is really irrelevant. It just means that conventional medicine cannot help you, but it is certainly no reason to give up. Remember though, just as conventional treatments should only be carried out by professionals so should alternative treatments. Self-diagnosis and self-medication have no place when it comes to fighting cancer.

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This article was first published in International Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 14, No. 1, January 1996, pp. 9-11


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