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The Author


The author of this site is the British writer, John Davidson.

Please note that the author is neither a doctor, nor a qualified health practitioner. Every cancer patient should always consult his or her medical practitioner with regard to the use of complementary remedies or treatments, and nothing on this site should be construed in any way as medical or therapeutic advice. It is simply the result of one person
’s search for solutions. Please read our disclaimer.

 

 

About This Site


Internet searches trawl up vast amounts of information about cancer, from a broad spectrum of viewpoints. The information and internet links on this site are for those seeking to augment the treatment offered by their hospital oncology (cancer) unit. Of course, a great many other internet sites concerning cancer can be found by keying the requisite search words into any of the major search engines.

The content of this site was initially prepared, at the request of medical and nursing staff and others, some weeks after I had had an emergency operation for the removal of a colon cancer, and while undergoing chemotherapy in case any cancer cells had gone AWOL. There had been some escape of cancer cells into associated lymph nodes (3 out of 17, including the most distal), but no other tumours had been picked up by a CT scan.

When I returned home from hospital in September 2005, with the help of friends, I started doing some research on cancer. I was amazed to discover that despite the billions of pounds/euros/dollars etc. spent on cancer research, and the many advances in understanding the numerous variants of the disease, the standard treatment for my stage of colon cancer is still a drug (fluorouracil, also called 5FU) that has been in use for more than forty years, has uncomfortable side effects, and which only increases the chances of survival after five years by 5 to 10%.

 

 

Chemotherapy Success Rates


Further surprises were in store. Although overall cancer survival rates, following all kinds of treatment, is a little over 60%, so far as chemotherapy goes, the 5 to 10% success rate of 5FU is on the high side. In fact, in an analysis of the available data regarding the efficacy of chemotherapy (
The Contribution of Cytotoxic Chemotherapy to 5-year Survival in Adult Malignancies), published in the journal Clinical Oncology in 2004, three Australian oncologists concluded that the overall success rate was in the region of just over 2%. Another Aussie professor disagreed. He felt the overall success rate was more like 5 or 6%.

Generally speaking, these figures epitomize the low success rate of chemotherapy. In fact, although cancer deaths are decreasing marginally, year on year, it is probable that this effect is largely due to more intensive screening of the general population and the resulting surgery. Spotting a cancer soon enough, followed by surgery where practical, still represents the best option for long term survival. It is true that there are a few cancers for which a specific, effective and targeted drug is available. Chronic myeloid leukemia is one. But all in all, chemotherapy is very expensive, not very successful, and has side effects that can make the patient's life a misery, and leave lasting damage in its wake.

The term 'success rate' needs to be defined. The three Aussie professors defined it as 'survival over 5 years'. On the other hand, for the new, anti-angiogenesis colorectal cancer drug, Avastin, success is defined as around two additional months survival. And death as a 'side effect' of Avastin (due to thrombosis, heart attack etc.) is more than 4 times as likely than with the treatment it is intended to replace. Incidentally, we are talking here about 'absolute success rates'. Cancer drug statistics are often presented as 'relative success rates', because they look better. For example, if cancer drug A shows a success rate of 2%, and cancer drug B shows 4%, the marketing men and even oncologists will present drug B as being 100% more effective than drug A, though the absolute success rate is a mere 2% better. Yet this success rate may only equate to an additional month or so of survival. Or not even that. Even some tumour shrinkage is claimed as a success, though it may make no difference at all to patient survival!

 

Pharmaceuticals vs. Nutriceuticals


Investigating some of the more recent research, I was again surprised to discover how much medical research has been done into naturally available substances (mostly 'phytochemicals' – from plants, mushrooms etc.), which possess cancer preventative, cancer inhibiting and even cancer curative properties. But despite this research, these substances – increasingly known as nutraceuticals or nutriceuticals – are not available as a part of standard medical treatment in the West.

The reasons for this are various. Firstly, under current legislation in the developed world, pharmaceutical products can only be offered when they have undergone full clinical trials. Although this is desirable, such trials can cost several hundred million pounds/euros/dollars. When it comes to trials of nutriceuticals, this generally rules out the wealthy pharmaceutical companies, for it can be difficult to establish patent rights on plant substances, and unless a company can gain proprietary rights over a product to help recoup its outlay, it will not spend the money. The legislation governing the patenting of plants and their extracts is complex. Plants themselves cannot be patented, unless they are new cultivars. Plant extracts and individual phytochemicals can be patented, as long as there is no 'prior art' (the 'invention' must be genuinely new). But since many plant substances are brought into the laboratory as a result of their use in traditional medicine, the absence of 'prior art' is a contentious issue, and can be difficult to establish. Extraction processes can also be patented. However, in many instances, a plant extract may have a number of substances that act together (synergy) to create the therapeutic effect, making the isolation and testing of a suitable proprietary product far more complex.

If the only way to bring nutriceuticals into general medical practice under current legislation is to carry out full clinical trials, then there would seem to be only three ways forward: 1) Government funding of clinical trials; 2) Grants from charitable organizations; or 3) Research and trials carried out by dedicated cancer research organizations. However – partly due to financial constraints, and partly due to the internal politics and turgid bureaucratic machinery of government-run health services – it can take many years for anything significant to happen. Therefore, the only option for a cancer patient who wants to make use of all this research right now is either to consult a private and well-informed medical practitioner who specializes in cancer care (see integrated medicine), or to adopt a do-it-yourself approach (not recommended!) – or a combination of the two.

For the future benefit of cancer patients, it would seem reasonable for carefully thought-out legislation to be introduced making possible the clinical use of nutriceuticals after less rigorous trial procedures than those required for pharmaceuticals, especially where it is clear from the history of a plant's use that there are no detectable negative side effects. Shiitake mushrooms, for example, which possess anti-cancer properties, have been eaten as a regular dietary item in China for a very long time, with positive anti-cancer results and no reported ill effects. Nowadays, they can even be bought in western supermarkets.

Questions such as the optimal dose or best method of extraction could then be worked out by a dialogue in medical journals or other appropriate forums between doctors using the substances, without the need for long and costly trials. In fact, in the USA, legislation along these lines has permitted the sale of nutriceuticals, as long as the manufacturers make no specific medical claims for their products. Forthcoming EU legislation is more stringent in a number of ways, placing greater restrictions on the marketing and sale of such products. Clearly, it would be of significant benefit to cancer patients if nutriceuticals with known beneficial properties could be used in standard medical practice.

In the case of mushroom extracts – one of the most promising nutriceutical approaches to beating cancer – extensive and on-going clinical trials have already taken place in China and Japan, where the use of mushroom products is widespread both in modern and traditional medicine. The methodology of these trials is not always acceptable to Western medical authorities, but surely – especially in the case of substances routinely used as foods and known to be non-toxic – the legislation could be changed so that cancer patients could benefit.

 

Information Overload


Most people know of the existence of some of these complementary and alternative cancer therapies, but until faced with the disease either in oneself or a loved one, few feel the need to investigate in detail. And when a closer look is taken, it is not long before information overload sets in. There is just so much data out there, so many possibilities, so much sales hype, and so many hidden agendas, that to assimilate, assess and act upon it is not so simple. There are probably over 100 complementary and alternative treatment options for cancer. Making use of the best of these is a good idea, for it is generally accepted that it is the pro-active cancer patients, who set about doing something to help themselves, who have the best chances of recovery and longer-term survival. But how to decide on which treatment options to use? Clearly it's an individual decision, but seeking the advice of an open-minded professional who is conversant with all the options (see integrated medicine) is a good place to start. In the real world, however, it is difficult to find such a person (but see next section). This means that you may need to gently educate your doctor! So, when consulting an expert, it's as well to go forearmed with information on the therapies that interest you.

If you cannot find the information you are seeking on this site and its associated links, you can generally find more than you need on particular substances and their efficacy as cancer treatments by doing an internet search for, e.g., 'mushrooms cancer' or 'turmeric cancer', and so on.

 

Choosing a Personal Treatment Regimen


As well as seeing your oncologist or haematologist, we strongly recommend consulting a specialist who is familiar with the complementary approaches to dealing with cancer. You could, for example, book a telephone consultation with Chris Etheridge at Integrated Cancer Healthcare
, who can provide initial guidance, and point you in the direction of a suitable specialist. You could also get a Moss Report from Dr Ralph W. Moss, concerning your particular kind of cancer. Some of the other guidance options are listed below under General Cancer Help Sites, and further possibilities can be found in the section on integrated medicine. Whatever you do, it is important that you feel comfortable and in tune with the approach of whoever you choose to turn to for guidance. In this respect, if you know of other websites that you feel could be usefully listed here, please do let us know.

As an aid to decision-making in the field of complementary cancer treatments, it is also a good idea to categorize the various treatment options according to their function: immuno-modulators and boosters, inducers of programmed cell death (apoptosis), anti-angiogenesis agents (inhibitors of blood supply to a tumour), antioxidants, and so on. It is also useful to relate this to the quality of available research data: cell-culture, animal studies, anecdotal evidence, pre-clinical trials, full clinical trials, and so on. This can help provide the basis of possible treatment regimens, related to the various types and stages of cancer. It is intended that something along these lines will be added to this site sometime in the first half of 2006.

 

Scientific Trials & Studies


While reviewing the various complementary options, it is worth considering a number of points. Firstly, cancer treatment is big business. This applies to both the pharmaceutical and medical industry, and well as the suppliers of complementary and alternative treatment options. Behind all cancer treatments there lies a profit motive. This means that scientific data is generally used by manufacturers to generate sales rather than to genuinely inform. Trial data is commonly presented in such a way as to increase confidence in a treatment, even if this is not the most honest interpretation of trial results. As the saying goes, –There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.– A manufacturer, for instance, may only publish those parts of a trial that show their product in a good light. Or they may commission a number of 'independent' product trials, but only publish those that show positive results. Trials giving negative results or demonstrating that a product is no better (or is worse) than that of a competitor are never published. Companies are under no obligation to publish the details of trials that yield negative results. In the US, a drug company may conduct four or five pre-clinical trials before they get the two positive results required for an application to the FDA for full clinical trials.

Scientific trials are of four kinds. Firstly, there is cell culture or cell line research, also known as 'in vitro' (lit. in glass) studies, in which the behaviour of cells is tested in a test tube or other laboratory container. This is a good starting point, but it is well understood that the human body is vastly more complex than a cell culture, and the response of the whole body is often significantly different to the response of an in vitro cell culture. There is also the problem of delivery. While a substance can be easily administered to cells in a cancer cell culture, and can even be shown to kill them all, it may be extremely difficult to deliver the same substance to a tumour inside a living human being. The substance may not be readily absorbed by the intestines, and intravenous administration may be impractical. Or the substance may have negative or lethal effects on other bodily systems and organs, and needs to be targeted to the tumour only. The possible problems are many, with the result that positive in vitro studies often do not translate into positive clinical usage. So when a manufacturer says that the claims for their product are supported by scientific research, it is always worth asking,
What kind of research?–, and To what extent was it tested on living human beings?– A large number of nutritional supplements, for example, are sold with little more than in vitro studies as evidence of efficacy. Furthermore, some supplements are very poorly absorbed by the gut, and pass right through the system – something the vendors may not be aware of, or about which they don't tell you.

Secondly, there are animal trials, normally conducted after a substance has shown some promise in cell culture research. However, it is obvious that rats, mice and other animals are not the same as human beings, and again positive results from animal studies often do not translate in positive human clinical trials.

Then there are human clinical trials. Here, the design of such experiments can vary widely, and can greatly effect the results. For instance, the results of a trial in which carefully selected subjects are used will clearly be very different from randomized trials. Also, the more people in the trial, the better – something which is more difficult and more expensive to organize.

Lastly, there are epidemiological studies – studies of trends in populations. Such research can produce interesting results. For instance, the early proof that smoking causes cancer and cardiovascular disease came from population studies. But many such studies are difficult to interpret. Consider the epidemiological studies which show that when immigrants from the Far East and other non-Western cultures emigrate to Western countries such as the USA, the likelihood of their developing cancer and cardiovascular disease is significantly increased. It is easy to point to diet, lifestyle and environment as the main culprits, but to what in particular? Again, epidemiological studies of the Japanese show a lower risk of cancer – but what aspect of Japanese life is responsible? Is it the consumption of soya products, green tea, sea foods, or something else? Is there less stress is their lifestyle? Is it genetic? Is it a mix of all these, and more? Consequently, it is often very difficult to design a study to identify individual causes.

So when, for example, a vendor suggests that a particular nation has a lower risk of cancer because they consume a certain food that contains a certain substance that they are selling, the actual research data to support this may be pretty flimsy. Commonly, as soon as any positive research data concerning cancer is published, even if it is only in vitro studies, unthinking journalists are quick to hype it up into the next miracle cure for cancer. The same is true of other diseases. And once some substance has reached public awareness, the food and nutritional supplement vendors are quick to cash in on what they hope will become the next new craze. The more wealthy vendors actually try to create the craze, just as clothing manufacturers dictate fashion. In fact, when researching the many supplements or new superfoods available, it seems that the less the data, the more the hype.

–A claim is only as good as the supporting data–


Whatever the hype, it's worth remembering that a claim is only as good as the supporting data. When the data is scarce or absent, vendors generally resort to anecdotal evidence. Such stories are more appealing than dry scientific data, and there is no doubt that a wealth of consistent anecdotal evidence often leads to rigorous scientific trials. Sometimes, it is sufficient in itself. A number of pharmaceuticals have been withdrawn and have become subject to court cases as a result of incontrovertible 'anecdotal evidence'. But the kind of anecdotal evidence provided by vendors ('testimonials') is always selected. They never publish the user feedback that says, –Your product is useless!– Moreover, the full individual circumstances are rarely monitored. It might have been something else that brought about the cure or improvement in condition.

One last point – it's always worth checking the date of scientific trials, reviews etc., if supplied. More up-to-date information may be available.

 

Open-Minded Scepticism


When assessing complementary treatments, it is always a good idea to question the data, adopting an attitude of open-minded and friendly scepticism. The conservative viewpoint is often to simply dismiss complementary and alternative treatments as lacking full evidence of efficacy. The truth is that this is often correct. But – as previously discussed – this is because full clinical trials are so costly (£500 million or more) that only the wealthiest of companies can afford them. And that generally means the pharmaceutical companies. Furthermore, if a product or its production process cannot be patented, no company will ever be prepared to make the necessary investment

A balanced approach seems advisable. There are 'fundamentalists' in both the complementary and conservative camps. The 'quackbusters' automatically jump on anything that smacks of an alternative, using strong rhetoric and distorted information to try and discredit the alternatives. Most of the mainstream cancer agencies and research centres are quick to point out that many complementary therapies are founded on slender data, and feel constrained to advise against their use until more information is available – the
Do nothing till you hear from me,– approach, despite the fact that cancer patients do not have that time on their hands. And some of the proponents of the alternatives are so radical that they see conspiracies at every step. There probably are a few cover ups (on both sides of the fence), but generally the inertia of the system and insistence on the expensive clinical trials of non-toxic nutriceuticals means that even the most useful adjuvants and complementary options may never get fully integrated into mainstream Western medicine.

In my personal experience, the doctors and nurses I have met in the UK's National Health Service have been invariably supportive of the use of complementary options. In fact, it was from their request to write down what I was doing that this site has come into existence. Many of these caring professionals are working within the constraints of a system with which they themselves do not fully agree. It is the restrictions of the unthinking system that prevents good alternatives and adjuvants from being made available. But since it is human beings who have created and who administer that system, we should also be able to change it, despite the mindset of those who will always strive to maintain the status quo, however outdated it may be. Please check our section on complementary help for cancer patients from the NHS
, to see what Self-Help Cancer is doing in this respect, and how you can help if you want to.

 

Beware of the Sharks


Perhaps it is worth pointing out that there are websites out there whose primary motivation seems to be to take money from vulnerable people. Some sites try to take up to $350 from you for nothing more than details of supposed cancer cures (of unknown authenticity) that can actually be found very rapidly and for free on the internet, especially with the help of a list of sites such as this. These sites are invariably written in easily identified sales hype that you might normally discard immediately. But when you are unwell, desperate, vulnerable and perhaps in shock after receiving a diagnosis of cancer concerning either yourself or a loved one, you can be deceived. Of course, we are not referring here to the few excellent organizations and individuals that offer a professional and well-informed cancer consultancy service for a fee, some of whom are mentioned elsewhere on this site. We are talking about genuine sharks. But whatever you decide to do, a good rule is to wait at least 24 hours before parting with money for anything related to cancer cures, and always to discuss the matter with someone you trust.

Also, it is always worth checking the credentials, not only of the vendors but also of the manufacturers of nutritional supplements. It is a fact that there are a number of unscrupulous companies out there, some of whose products are more or less worthless. The same is true of the pharmaceutical industry. It is believed that around 10% of all drugs sold worldwide are bogus. Unfortunately, this is especially true in the developing world.

General Cancer Help Sites


Here are some sites that provide information concerning cancer and the complementary treatment options available.

American Cancer Society
Guidelines For Using Complementary and Alternative Methods.

Annie Appleseed Project – A pro-active non-profit organization founded by breast cancer survivor, Ann Fonfa, providing information, education, advocacy and awareness of complementary medicine and natural therapies from the patient's perspective. Designed especially for cancer patients and their friends and families. An excellent resource.

BC Cancer Agency
– Evaluating alternative / complementary therapy information.

Penny Brohn Cancer Care
– Previously the Bristol Cancer Help Centre. A leading UK holistic cancer charity, whose approach is to work hand-in-hand with medical treatment, combining physical, emotional and spiritual support using complementary therapies and self-help techniques, including practical advice on nutrition.

CancerActive
– Chris Woollam’s cancer information site to help you make informed choices, especially regarding complementary options.

Cancer Advice – Has useful information on the different kinds of cancer, and the standard treatment available.

Cancer Compass – “Empowering cancer patients to make informed decisions” – contains useful information on the various kinds of cancer.

Cancer Cure Foundation
– “A non-profit organization dedicated to researching and providing information about alternative cancer treatments and therapies.

Cancer Links – Links to many other cancer-related sites.

Cancer Options
– “To help you make informed choices.”

Cancer Research UK
– Contains a wealth of information about cancer.

Cancer Decisions - Moss Reports – A balanced overview of complementary cancer treatments by US author and cancer consultant, Ralph Moss PhD.

Macmillan Cancer Support
– One of the UK's top cancer support agencies and charities, probably best known for their practical nursing and conselling help at home and in hospital, dealing with problems great and small.

National Cancer Institute
– “Chemotherapy and You: A Guide to Self-Help During Cancer Treatment.”

NewsTarget
Cancer Industry Spreads Fear and Disinformation to Scare People away from Learning about Alternative Treatments for Cancer on the Internet. An impassioned but cogent answer to a professor's comment that there is no good evidence that any complementary treatment can prevent cancer”.

Swedish Cancer Institute
– An excellent health information resource from the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, USA. Contains a thorough evaluation of the efficacy of many of the nutriceuticals mentioned on this site.

University of California San Diego – Moores Cancer Center Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Cancer Patients
– Lists many of the available alternative and complementary cancer treatments.

Yes To Life – An excellent UK site with a balanced viewpoint, seeking to provide clear information on the best complementary treatments available to cancer patients, integrated with conventional cancer care. Also working to bring such treatments within the orbit of the UK's NHS. If you are looking for help and advice or want to support a small cancer charity, this is a really excellent place to start.


Copyright John Davidson, 2006, 2008, 2012

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