Alternative Therapies

Diet

There is very good evidence that there is a strong dietary basis to the development of many cancers. There are links with dairy products, meat and smoked foods. Vegetarians are much less liable to develop many cancers. Diets that are rich in processed tomato products are meant to be protective against the development of cancer of the prostate gland.

Although there is very little doubt about this evidence, there is doubt about the value of changing your diet once a cancer develops. Much has been made of the importance of diet in altering the outcome of cancer. Specialist centres have been set up that provide advice for patients, centres that strongly advocate dietary change. Diets that are without dairy produce and meat have their strong protagonists, but it is awfully difficult for most people to assume a vegan lifestyle. Vegan diets may cause weight loss and this is very debilitating, both physically and psychologically, for the patient with cancer.

Patients who have gone to centres that offer dietary advice may come away from their residential courses feeling that they have participated in a wonderful experience. They may alter their diet slightly or not at all as a result of this experience, but what they have benefited from is the experience of sharing their troubles with people who have time to listen to them, cancer patients and residential course staff.

The Gerson Diet

The Gerson Diet consists mainly of fruit and vegetables of organic origin. Electrolyte balance is strongly regulated, sodium use is limited and potassium is encouraged. Coffee enemas are recommended and may be taken two or three times each day. The Gerson Clinic is alive and well, and patients are treated south of the border in Mexico. There is no evidence whatsoever from any clinical trial that the Gerson diet is of value in cancer, and many find the enemas very debilitating.

Alternative medicines

The testing of herbal medicines is much less rigorous than the testing of conventional medical products. We have found in alternative medicines toxic compounds that may cause side-effects and also the natural equivalents of drugs that are used to treat prostate cancer. Some of these substances include steroids and female hormones and will by themselves lead to an improvement in PSA levels, or sometimes in symptoms.

One of the most popular of recent alternative medicines has been PC Spes. This product does have significant activity in patients with prostate cancer. This is because it contains plant equivalents of diethylstilboestrol, a synthetic female hormone used to treat prostate cancer. Medical studies have shown that patients do improve with PC Spes. However, this improvement comes with a downside. There is toxicity, patients develop breast swelling and have indigestion. These are symptoms that are common in patients taking diethylstilboestrol and one of the reasons why treatment with diethylstilboestrol is only rarely prescribed nowadays.

Shark fin

Shark fin extract is sold to patients with prostate cancer and indeed to many patients with malignancies other than prostate cancer. The theoretical basis for the use of shark fin is that sharks, to our knowledge, do not develop cancer. Shark fin extract is used to treat patients with cancer in the hope that they will be like sharks and not have any tumours. There is absolutely no theoretical evidence that this is of benefit. It is most expensive.

Almond kernels

Extracts of almond kernels achieved some notoriety as the potential treatment for cancers. These alternative medicines were investigated by the National Cancer Institute in the USA. No benefit was shown. Almond kernel extracts do have some theoretical basis for their activity. They contain cyanide, which is a cellular poison.

Bromelin

Bromelin is an enzyme that breaks down proteins. It is isolated from the fruit of pseudananas macrodontes, which is a species closely related to the pineapple. Bromelin has been used to treat patients with ulcerative colitis. Experimental work has shown that this compound produces a boost to the immune system. There is no evidence to date of its activity in cancer, but it certainly is an interesting compound.

Iscador

Iscador is a mistletoe extract. Its use in cancer was pioneered by Rudolph Steiner, founder of Theosophy. Iscador is a poison and has measurable effects upon the bone marrow. Patients who take iscador may develop anaemia or low levels of white blood cells or platelets and for this reason they may require blood transfusion or be at risk from infection or bleeding. There is absolutely no evidence of its efficacy in cancer and considerable evidence that iscadore has deleterious effects.

Essiac

Essiac is a blend of a number of different herbs which includes Indian rhubarb, sorrel, slippery elm and burdock. It is suggested that essiac stimulates the immune system and improves life quality. However, there is no significant evidence of its effects in cancer.

Teas

There has been much interest in the observation that cancer of the prostate is much less common in people of Asian origin. Although the reason for this is thought to be purely dietary, there is a school of thought that the use of herbal teas is part of the reason for the lower rate of prostate cancer in the Far East . Green teas have become popular as a supplement for patients with cancer.

Vitamins

It is possible that limited vitamins and trace element consumption has contributed to the development of malignancy. Many patients take vitamin and trace element supplements. Vitamin C and B complex are safe to take, as are recommended amounts of metals such as Zinc, and trace metals, such as Selenium. Patients should be very careful about taking Vitamins A, D and E because, in excess amounts, these vitamins will cause very significant medical problems, and occasionally death. It is very important to take the dosages recommended in the information leaflets.

Homeopathy

The addition of tiny amount of a compound is thought by the homeopaths to restore balance and contribute to good health. Homeopathic remedies are prepared by serial dilution of a substance thought to have some activity which is called the mother. At each step the solution is shaken and the final dilution is thought to confer healing properties.

It is very difficult to establish a rationale for the effect of homeopathic remedies. Why should it be that a grain of salt diluted 14 billion times should be a cure for cancer? However, despite this reservation, there is no doubt that visits to homeopaths are enormously beneficial for patients and this may be because of the enormous psychological support that is offered to patients when they visit a homeopath.

Psychic Surgery

The practitioners of psychic surgery delve into abdomens and produce what appear to be tumourous growths. They remove these growths and miraculously do so without leaving any evidence that the abdomen has been opened. There is no cut, there are no scars and the psychic surgeon has cured the patient of his cancer. The psychic surgeons manage to extract significant amounts of money from the wallets of poor people desperate for life. The tumours miraculously removed by the psychic surgeons have been found to be pieces of chicken and the entrails of pigs.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy involves the use of aromatic oils, which are gently massaged or gently rubbed into the skin of patients with cancer. The action of rubbing the oils is an enormously relaxing and wonderful process. The oils themselves are soothing and the benefits to the patient from this process quite clear. Relaxation and calmness come from this technique.

Reflexology

In this technique, pressure is applied to specific zones on the soles and tops of the feet. Each zone corresponds to a body zone and it is suggested that there are interconnections through which energy flows. However, it is unclear what these “connections” could be. Massage in particular areas of the foot have been used to help patients with cancer. Many people feel calmed by treatment, which is gentle and soothing. It is thoroughly recommended for cancer patients.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture aims to restore energy through interventions in a grid-like energy system, criss-crossing the body. Needles are placed at specific points within the body that the acupuncture specialist has been trained to recognise as helpful in restoring body energy balances. Acupuncture has been used successfully to control pain and nausea.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis has become a very useful medical tool, useful in modern times for the treatment of mental disorders, such as phobias and anxiety. In cancer, too, it has a significant role and may be used to help people visualise their tumours, relax, or deal with the dreadful nausea and vomiting that may come from cancer chemotherapy.

Hypnosis can also be helpful in reducing the amounts of pain that a patient experiences. The perception of pain is increased by anxiety and can be decreased by hypnosis.

Distant Healing

There are healers within our community; and people who have psychic power, whatever that means and whatever that is, do have a role to play in cancer care.