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More than 1,359,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year alone and approximately 550,000 patients will die this year from cancer. In spite of the near 25 billion dollars spent on cancer research in the past twenty years, cancer deaths have actually increased over that same time period. This has raised major concern among researchers and clinicians alike-it's time to rethink our approach to cancer prevention and treatment. If there has been any improvement in cancer risk, it seems to be with the ability to detect some cancers sooner, i.e. mammography for the detection of breast cancer and PSA tests for prostate cancer.
It seems that everything we do or eat these days allegedly causes cancer. Excessive exposure to sunlight increases the risk of skin cancer. Asbestos workers have an increased risk of developing an unusual form of lung cancer called a mesothelioma. Smoking and secondary smoke are the main reason that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths (over 158,000 deaths in 1996 alone). Radiation, charcoal grilled steaks, too much fat in our diet, saccharin, and numerous chemicals increase our risk of cancer. These are referred to in the medical literature and media as carcinogens (those things that increase our risk of developing cancer).
Since the first report that chimney sweeps had an increased risk of scrotal cancer because of their exposure to soot, we have become more and more afraid of our environment. Our bodies are being exposed to far more chemicals than any previous generation. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that there are well over 60,000 chemicals in commercial use today and they are increasing at a rate of 1,000 per year. What is the one common denominator? They all increase oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the key to understanding new strategies for preventing and fighting cancer.
OXIDATIVE STRESS AS THE CAUSE OF CANCER
There has been growing medical evidence that when excessive "free radicals" are allowed to exist near the nucleus of the cell, significant damage to the DNA of the cell results. This "free radical" damage may then lead to mutation of the DNA of the cell. When the cell replicates, this mutation to the DNA is carried to the next generation of cells and the actual genetic damage that occurs can lead to abnormal growth of the cell.
If there is further oxidative stress to the DNA of the cell there is further damage. The cell will then begin to grow out of control and take on a life of its own. It then develops the ability to spread from one part of the body to another (metastasis). Thus, becoming a true cancer. Almost all researchers now believe that development of cancer is not an event but rather a multistage process that takes decades to develop. More and more researchers are beginning to realize that this repeated damage to the DNA by excessive "free radicals" over 10 to 20 years that in fact may be the root cause of all cancers.
Dr. Donald Malins, a biochemist from Seattle, reported a new method for identifying structural changes in the DNA of breast tissue. By using an instrument that bounces infrared radiation off the DNA and analyzing the signals via a sophisticated computer, he is able to follow the structural changes to the DNA caused by "free radicals."
Malins has noted significant changes within the structure of the DNA as he compares normal breast tissue to metastatic breast cancer in all of its developmental stages. Dr. Malins believes oxidative stress causes this predictable damage to the DNA and over time eventually leads to the formation of breast cancer. He further argues that cancer is not so much the result of dysfunctional genes as it is the result of genetic damage caused by these highly reactive "free radicals."
Kelvin Davies, a biochemist from the Department of Biochemistry, Albany Medical College, wrote an extensive review article on oxidative stress. He explained in detail the damage that can occur to the DNA of the cell via excessive "free radicals." According to Davies, this damage actually causes mutation of the genetic code within the DNA.
Researchers can actually identify which chains of the DNA are damaged most frequently. For the past 25 years the focus has been placed on the fact that abnormal genes are the driving forces behind all cancers. Now researchers are beginning to consider the possibility that some genes (individuals) are just more vulnerable to oxidative stress than others. This would explain the familial patterns of many types of cancer.
Physicians usually diagnose cancer in its last stages of development. Unfortunately, by the time a cancer is advanced enough to cause symptoms or show up on a X-ray, it has usually been developing for over 10 to 20 years and it's usually too late. Doctors get out the big guns of aggressive surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation only to realize that most often they can do little to help the patient. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to attack cancer at a much earlier stage in its development if we are going to have any chance to decrease the number of deaths caused by cancer. Understanding the role of oxidative stress in the development of cancer offers us a host of new possibilities in cancer prevention and treatment.
DO ANTIOXIDANTS DECREASE THE RISK OF CANCER?
It seems logical that if "oxidative stress" is indeed the cause of cancer, then people who have more antioxidants available would definitely have a lower risk of cancer. This logic proves true. Cancer research specialist, Dr. Gladys Block (Berkley) reviewed over 172 epidemiological studies from around the world on diet and cancer. She discovered a universal and consistent finding: those individuals who had the highest intake of fruits and vegetables (the main source of antioxidants) had a two to threefold decreased risk of developing most cancers when compared to those who had the lowest intake of fruits and vegetables.
The opposite also holds true. Dr. Bruce Ames, a leading researcher in cancer stated in an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association that individuals who consume the least amounts of fruits and vegetables have twice the cancer risk as those who consume the most. By merely consuming the recommended 5 to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, we are able to significantly decrease our risk of almost every type of cancer.
CHEMOPREVENTION OF CANCER
As we begin to understand the very root cause of cancer, different therapeutic options become available. Since cancer is a multistage process that takes years to develop, there are several opportunities to intervene in this process.
Chemoprevention is focused on preventing the cancer from developing in the earliest stages. If this is not possible, chemoprevention is aimed at reversing the damage that has already occurred to the cell. The body has the amazing ability to heal itself, which is the very basis of cellular nutrition.
Controlling oxidative stress and thus damage to the DNA is a matter of balance. Each individual must have enough antioxidants on board to handle the number of free radicals produced. When there is initial damage to the DNA, cellular nutrition offers the body the nutrients needed to repair the damage. Cellular nutrition also enhances our body's natural immune system, which seeks out and destroys any abnormally growing cells.
What if I already have Cancer?
Chemoprevention therapies are definitely targeted toward those individuals who have not yet developed cancer. And standard therapy for cancers doesn't always appear promising, though medical therapy for cancer has improved over the last decade in regards to effectiveness and reduced complications. There has definitely been better success with leukemia and lymphomas than with solid tumor cancers.
What if you've already been diagnosed? The mere thought of chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer treatment is not pleasant. However, in many instances cancers are treated effectively and many years are added to a patient's life. Medical research is now beginning to demonstrate the fact that traditional chemo and radiation therapies can be enhanced by the use of complete and balanced nutritional supplements.
Presently oncologists or radiation therapists usually discourage the use of antioxidants in patients with cancer. They feel that antioxidants will build up the cancer cells' natural antioxidant defense system, thus making their treatments less effective. However, studies reported in the medical literature do not support these fears. In fact, just the opposite occurs.
The goal of the oncologist is to destroy the cancerous tumors (which are the fastest growing cells in the body) without killing the patient. His or her treatment not only wipes out the patient's immune system but can also cause devastating damage to other parts of the body. Chemotherapeutic drugs create tremendous amounts of "free radicals" and therefore oxidative stress. In fact, most of the terrible side effects of these drugs are now being related to this oxidative stress that they cause. Many of our patients die from cancer treatments rather than the cancer itself.
However, when the patient is provided with cellular nutrition and some important optimizers, not only is the oncologist's and radiation therapist's treatments enhanced because cancer cells take up antioxidants abnormally, making the cancer cells more vulnerable to treatments; but the normal cells are also better protected from the devastating oxidative stress these treatments cause. It is a win-win situation.
Chemoprevention is not only focused on protecting the DNA of our cells and the repair of any damage that has occurred, but also in maintaining the strongest immune system possible. Our immune system is our greatest protector against cancer that has already developed. It is even able to destroy abnormal tumor cells. Whereas chemotherapeutic drugs tend to destroy one's immune system, antioxidants build it up.
Here are just some examples of studies that are now appearing in our medical literature:
I believe patients who have been diagnosed with cancer and are looking at chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy need to be on optimal levels of antioxidants and their supporting nutrients. In my practice, I place all my patients on a basic complete and balanced nutritional supplement program. Then I add these particular nutrients depending on the type of cancer. My patients not only tolerate their treatments better but also are having a better response to treatments.
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) has been shown to stimulate and charge the immune system. Several case studies show that high doses of CoQ10 has led to regression of metastases in advanced breast cancer. CoQ10 has also been shown to be protective of the heart in patients receiving Adriamycin, a chemotherapeutic drug that may cause significant damage to the heart as one of its side effects.
- A clinical trial using a combination of antioxidants with chemotherapy and radiation therapy in patients with lung cancer demonstrated prolonged survival. These patients also tolerated their therapy remarkably better. The sooner they started the antioxidants after finding out they had cancer, the better the results.
- The use of cruciferous antioxidants in patients with breast cancer has shown inhibition of the growth of these tumors.
- Antioxidants have been shown to enhance the cytotoxicity of chemotherapeutic drugs used in colon cancer. This means that the antioxidants actually improved the effect of these drugs in fighting the cancer.
- Thirty-two typical breast cancer patients were given a combination of nutritional supplements, which was added to the traditional surgical and therapeutic treatment of breast cancer. The nutritional supplementation was vitamin C: 2850mg, vitamin E: 2500 IU, beta-carotene: 32.5 IU, selenium 387 mcg, essential fatty acids, CoQ 10, and secondary vitamins and minerals. The main observations of this study were a) none of the patients died during the study period (the expected number was four), b) none of the patients showed signs of further metastases, c) quality of life improved (no weight loss, reduced use of pain killers), d) six patients showed apparent partial remission.
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