Cancer is a term for a constellation of 100-plus diseases that can affect any bodily part. Also called malignant tumor, cancer is democratic in that it affects everybody from the young to the old, from the rich to the poor, from men to women to children. Likewise, it serves as a major problem on patients, families and societies. Finally, it is among the leading causes of deaths across the globe, most especially in developing nations like the Philippines. “…[F]or all our technology and modern methods, we are plagued by a long list of contemporary diseases, many of them fatal [i.e. cancer], which modern medicine cannot cure” (Meyerowitz 1).
However, many of these fatalities can be prevented since several cancers can be avoided while others can be detected beforehand and treated. Even patients suffering from terminal-stage cancer can get a relief with good care. Nevertheless, the prevailing fallacies about and the undetermined causes of cancer prevent the disease from being finally cured. Modern medicine’s success in curing cancer was 3% in the 1990’s, 20% by 1950 and 38% in 2000, to reach 50% and 100% only by 2020 and 2100, respectively (Barefoot 20).
Due to conventional cancer treatment’s negative effects on the body, people prefer the alternative treatment or a combination of both therapies. Modern treatments for cancer, however advanced and commonly used, have not provided a guaranteed cure for the disease. Hence, it is mixed with alternative therapy to cure cancer or neglected altogether in favor of using purely alternative therapy, with promising results.
Several contributing factors are mistaken for the causes of cancer. Smoking tobacco is one such factor that contributes in exacerbating cancer types like lung, larynx, esophagus, stomach, bladder, oral cavity and other cancers. Also, dietary factors like obesity and lack of fruit and vegetables suffice in forming tumors. In addition, alcohol is a factor that engenders various cancer types. Finally, ageing is a contributing factor for the development of cancer, owing to lifetime risk accumulation and decreasing cellular repair capacity. “Within this [environmental cancer factors] category, there is a host of cancer-causing substances such as industrial chemicals, pesticides, ionizing radiation, free radicals, food additives, high-fat and high-sugar foods, refined foods, and adulterated foods. We are bombarded with these toxic, congesting and damaging substances as never before in history. From the air we breathe to the water we drink and the food we eat, to our modern technology and ‘creature comforts,’ we are exposed daily to a host of carcinogenic factors” (Calbom 18)
The true causes of cancer have not been popularly determined. Modern medicine knows neither the cause nor the way cancer spreads, so no effective cancer therapy is available, causing the disease to expand globally (Rath 10). Cancer happens due to alterations of the genes accountable for cell growth and repair. These changes are the outcome of the interaction between genetic host factors and outside agents like physical, chemical and biological carcinogens. Physical carcinogens include ultraviolet and ionizing radiation. Meanwhile, chemical carcinogens include asbestos and tobacco smoke. On the other hand, biological carcinogens include infections by virus and bacteria and food contamination by mycotoxins. Cancer emerges from a single cell and follows a multistage process to turn into a tumor cell as provoked by the aforementioned inherited genetic factors and outside agents.
Western-type Medicinal Methods: The Dominant Mode of Cancer Treatment
The medicinal methods of the West compose the modern way of treating cancer. These methods include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Surgery is the oldest existing form of cancer treatment, carrying an essential role in diagnosing and discovering the extent—staging—of cancer and offering the highest chance for treatment of cancer types that have yet to spread across other body parts (Fleming 160). Surgery can be done to reach goals such as preventive, diagnostic, staging, curative, debulking, palliative, supportive and restorative ends (Fleming 161-162). In conducting surgeries, it is not necessary that the operation be limited to using scalpel and other instruments in removing, repairing or replacing diseased parts of the body. Newer surgical techniques include laser surgery, which is a highly focused and powerful beam of light energy used for very precise surgical work as in vaporizing cancers of the cervix, larynx, liver, rectum or skin (Fleming 161). Cryosurgery is another technique; it involves the use of a liquid nitrogen spray to freeze and slay abnormal cells (Fleming 162). Electrosurgery is also a technique which uses high-frequency electrical current to destroy cancer cells in, say, skin and mouth (Fleming 163). Meanwhile, Mohs micrographic surgery is a technique to take away certain skin cancers by shaving off one tissue layer after another until normal-looking cells are revealed (Fleming 164). Laparoscopic surgery involves laparoscope, a long, flexible tube set through a small incision to peer inside the body to take biopsy samples and to perform less bloody and painful surgery for cancers (Fleming 165). On the other hand, thorascopic surgery is used to remove lung parts containing cancer (Fleming 165).
Among the newer forms of surgical techniques is an entire cancer treatment altogether: radiation therapy. Its aim is to treat cancer, where possible, while maintaining acceptable function. It is the main treatment for several skin cancers; cancers of the mouth, nasal cavity, pharynx and larynx; brain tumors and many gynecological, lung cancers, and prostate cancers, say medical doctors Daniel Cukier and Virginia McCollough (26). Radiation treatments generally involve energies of over one million electron volts; it works by destroying cells, either directly or by interfering with cell reproduction using high-energy X-rays, electron beams or radioactive isotopes (Cukier and McCollough 27). When a radiated cell tries to divide and reproduce itself, it fails to do so and dies in its attempt whereas normal cells are able to repair the effects of radiation better than are malignant and other abnormal cells (Cukier and McCollough 27). Thus, Cukier and McCollough assert that normal cells are able to recover from exposure to radiation and maintain integrity and viability better than malignant cells (28). If the dose and delivery of radiation are well chosen and the disease is localized to the region of treatment, the cancer dies, whereas the normal tissues survive and the patient is made well again (Cukier and McCollough 28).
Another cancer treatment is chemotherapy, a type of drug treatment used in cancer. It is used at various stages of cancer in treating solid tumors (cancerous lumps) affecting organs such as the breast or bowel, as well as blood cancers such as leukemia. All chemotherapy drugs work by combating cells that are dividing heedlessly. Normal cells reproduce at a rate that is strictly controlled by the body whereas in cancer cells, the cell division goes wrong, resulting in abnormal production of new cells and the creation of a tumor or blood cancer. Chemotherapy drugs interfere with the generation of these cells and may cause the cancer to retract completely.
The Hazards of Orthodox Cancer Therapies
These widely accepted medicinal treatments for cancer are not without disadvantages. There have been cancer patients who developed organ damage, immune breakdown and inoperable tumors from orthodox treatments like surgery radiation and chemotherapy (Binzel 109). Possible complications can result during the surgery itself from the anesthesia or an underlying disease and the more complicated the surgery, the higher the risk. While they are not common, major surgical complications can include bleeding which may require blood transfusions, damage to internal organs and blood vessels, reactions to anesthesia or other medicines, problems with other organs like lungs, heart or kidneys (Binzel 109). Some problems after surgery are quite common although not necessarily life-threatening like pain and infection. Other post-surgical problems are rare but more serious like the occurrence of pneumonia, grave infections, internal or external hemorrhage, blood clotting, slow recovery of bodily functions or long-term side effects such as losing control of urination or becoming impotent (Binzel 109).
Radiation poses disadvantages too, according to Drs. Cukier and McCollough (29). Cryotherapy for one offers limited long-term data because of its novelty as mainstream cancer treatment (Cukier and McCollough 29). Some radiation-treated patients may be required two months of daily visits to the hospital and they may also suffer from impotence as a radiation side-effect (Binzel 109). The biggest problem is the number of risks accompanying the exposure to radiation such as lumps which requires biopsies (Cukier and McCollough 30). Like chemotherapy, radiation is a biological stressor that causes patient’s malnutrition (Binzel 109).
Lastly, there are side effects attributed to chemotherapy; one is that it does not only target cancer cells, but any cell dividing rapidly including those in the bone marrow and skin, hair-producing cells, and the cells lining the mouth and digestive system. “[A] dogma of today’s medical orthodoxy is the widespread assumption that chemotherapy must be toxic in order to work” (Walters 15). Damage to these healthy cells may create several side effects including tiredness, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, hair loss, vulnerability to infections, sore mouth, mouth ulcers and gustatory alterations (Cukier and McCollough 30). Pregnant women undergoing chemotherapy run the risk of damaging the developing baby (Binzel 109).
Enter: Alternative Cancer Treatments
At its basic, the medical therapies of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery have not cured the poor prognostic cancers, including brain, lung, liver, pancreas, melanoma, sarcoma, and advanced cases of breast, cervical, uterine, prostate, and colon cancer (Rath 10). The disadvantages of the modern treatment for cancer thus paved the way for the emergence of alternative treatments for cancer, some of which include nutrition, herb and diet, writes health and medical author Richard Walters (15).
For one, nutrition is a very promising, low cost, non-toxic, and scientifically valid approach to improving the outcome from medical treatment of cancer. In a nutshell, the advantages of implementing nutrition as part of comprehensive cancer therapy include nutrients as biological response modifiers, according to Dr. Bernard Jensen (16). Therapeutic dosages of nutrients may have the capability of reducing tumor recurrence, selectively slowing cancer cells, stimulating the immune system to destroy tumor cells more actively, altering the genetic expression of cancer, among others. Adjuvant nutrition in cancer treatment saves patients from dying of malnutrition by arresting it, reduces the toxic effects of conventional medical treatment with antioxidants like beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin, fish oil, carnitine, quercetin, ginseng and selenium which seem to enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy, radiation, and hyperthermia while minimizing damage to the patient's normal cells, thus making therapy more of a "selective toxin" and making an optimally nourished cancer patient better tolerate the pressures of cytotoxic therapy (Walters 15). Beta-carotene-rich carrots are found to reverse certain types of cancers, and research tests are continuing into the anticarcinogenic properties of beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) (Jensen 16-17). Nutrition also bolsters immune functions, selectively starves tumor and generates anti-proliferative factors (Jensen 17).
As for herbal treatments, Essiac and Flor-Essence are two commercially available herbal formulas that are known to have cancer-fighting properties. According to the US National Cancer Institute, four herbs—burdock root (Arcticum lappa), Turkish rhubarb root (Rheum palmatum), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), and slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra)—compose the original formula of cancer-curing Canadian nurse Rene Caisse (the product refers to her name read backwards) (NCI 1). The same agency publicizes that Flor-Essence contains the same four herbs as Essiac, along with four additional herbs: watercress (Nasturtium officinale), blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus), red clover (Trifolium pratense), and kelp (Laminaria digitata) (NCI 1). The individual herbal ingredients of Flor-Essence have been discovered to carry an array of positive properties including antioxidant, antiestrogenic, immunostimulant, antitumor and anticholeretic actions; trace elements; minerals; and phytoestrogens (NCI 1). There are some health benefits from Essiac/Flor-Essence that cancer patients have noticed: better feeling, zero cancer progression, normalized daily activities, more energy, better coping mechanism, improved cancer symptoms like fatigue, appetite loss, nausea, pain, and vomiting, and cancer survival (NCI 1). “Preliminary research also suggests that astralagus might be useful in treating…the side effects of cancer chemotherapy” (Bratman and Kroll 129).
Dieting is another food therapy used in treating cancer. In the 1950s, a man named Max Gerson began such a therapy using a strict diet of fresh vegetables and fruit (Meyerowitz 1). Many people have succeeded in using a macrobiotic diet, vegetarian diets, and the Budwig diet (Barefoot 20). Others add products like wheat grass, barley green, and broccoli sprouts to their diet due to the special properties they possess. For instance, broccoli sprouts and not just broccoli contains a cancer-fighting agent known as sulforaphane that alerts the body in making an enzyme that hinders tumors from forming (Calborn 18). As for Budwig diet of flax seed oil, the Flax seed (Linseed) oil diet was originally proposed in 1951 by Dr. Johanna Budwig, a German biochemist and expert on fats and oils (Barefoot 20). Her simple formula of two tablespoons of flaxseed oil to a quarter cup of low fat cottage cheese (or other foods containing sulfur) helps raise metabolism, boosts the immune systems, reduces cholesterol levels, and helps inhibit cancer-cell growth (Barefoot 20). Low sugar diets appear to starve cancer cells which use sugar as their fundamental "fuel" while a high sugar intake seems to increase agents in the body accountable for creating conditions that encourage cancer to grow—for instance, high acidosis, immune system suppression and prosglandin production (Calbom 18).
The Dominant, the Other, or Both?
With the identification of the true cause of cancer and the emerging popularity of alternative treatment for the disease, the alternative treatment is being used to replace or to combine with the modern treatment.
Alternative treatment is, in some cases, solely being used as a cure for cancer. Many cancer patients are now using alternative treatments like acupuncture, herbs and vitamins (Bratman and Krall 129). To cite an example, herbs help patients' immune systems get stronger as evident in 25 to 30 kinds of herbs getting prescribed out of about 500, depending on each patient's condition (Walters 15). A study published in the July 2000 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology revealed that at least 83 percent of 453 outpatients at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas had used at least one alternative treatment, such as a special diet, spiritual practices or vitamin supplements (Matsuda 1).
Some cancer patients combine alternative methods with conventional treatments, notably chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Patients attest that using alternative treatments with Western medicine works wonders—they do not exclusively use herbal medicine treatments but use them as adjunct with chemotherapy and radiation (Matsuda 1). To slow down and minimize the recurrence of cancer in a natural way, it is not improbable for cancer patients to combine surgery with acupuncture or herbology, for example (Diamond 22). They may resort to herbal tea and acupuncture while undergoing Western mode of cancer treatment in order to slow down the growth of abnormal cells. They believe that controlling cancer using both Chinese and conventional methods is the best approach to do (Matsuda 1). A complementary approach in trading cancer is necessary, one which stresses alternative therapies together with limited and judicious employ of conventional means (Diamond 22).
There may be a potential danger in combining herbs and drugs, though. Herb versus drug competition is considered a serious problem since people who are already taking regular drugs may have herbs that interfere with the regular drug's activity (Matsuda 1). While some doctors have strong doubts about alternative medicine, some patients only use alternative ways to treat their cancer, despite doctors’ warnings about the danger of relying on unproven methods. Doctors argue that if there was an easy way like alternative medicine, all the main hospitals would use it and are worried about patients being drawn into unproven methods that will not help them. They still think the best way to cure cancer is to take the tumor out as soon as possible. Herbologists rebut by arguing that there is vast misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about, say, Chinese medicine in Western medical society, in part due to the different concepts used and in part due to business competition.
Some cancers respond favorably to alternative medicine. Breast and lymph node tumors have a 50% medication rate using surgery, but patients using unconventional methods have some good news being delivered to them by their doctors: a remission of tumor on said body parts (Matsuda 1). Non-Hodgskins lymphoma patients resorting to acupuncture and herbal medicines have improved health compared to the time when they were undergoing chemotherapy and radiation (Walters 15). On top of preventing cancers from developing, cleansing diet have been acclaimed to cure internal organ tumors (Calbom 18). The success stories are speaking for themselves.
It is easy to note the trend that the patrons of alternative treatment are the ones who have actually or vicariously experienced the failure of orthodox medicines, hence the hopeful switch to alternative treatment for cancer medication. Furthermore, the high incidence of cancer among the developing countries have caused the dramatic rise of alternative therapy’s popularity, the areas being peopled mostly by poor who cannot afford to pay exorbitant fees on surgical operations, radiation and chemotherapy. Poverty being the case, these people can only pay for cheap medicinal herbs and plants in their optimistic attempt to heal from cancer. Since not a few cases have been documented to have slowed down the growth of cancer or cured cancer completely, the West also started importing these alternatives and studying the possibility of using them in substitution of or in integration with the orthodox type.
Singularly, however, alternative therapy address the actual causes of cancer more correctly the largely failed mainstream treatments, a success that threatens to displace and is therefore being attacked by the medical establishment. Understandably enough, the greater success rate of alternatives treatments—only perceived, in the light of conventional medication’s unchanged failure—endangers the profits currently being enjoyed by Western medicine. No patent can be made on nature, so studies conducted by Western medicine practitioners cannot be profitable. If studies will prove and help approve the use of alternative treatment’s effectiveness in curing cancer as well as other illnesses, that allows a cheaper, safer and more effective rival into a well-guarded market. If these alternative medicines will not be discredited as quack medicine, the orthodox medicine will soon be out of business.
Patients who are confronting the disease want to live better lives while fighting it. To ease the side effects from radiation, they treat cancer with natural therapies with the intent of trying to induce the body’s natural healing mechanisms to fight off the cancer. Instead of trying to attack the cancer cells with conventional methods of medical treatment, they use alternative medicine to help the body fight the cancer. Their faith in Western medicine has already shifted to alternative therapy. It may take only a matter of time when alternative medicine gets its due recognition in the same way that Western-type medicine dominates the business of healing today.
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