Cancer

It is estimated that one person out of three in New Zealand will develop some form of cancer. The incidence of cancer is rising, due to the lifestyle many people lead; and despite the efforts of the pharmaceutical industry to develop a cure.

The term ‘cancer’ is quite imprecise, as many different types of cancers exist. As many as 200 different types of cancers can be diagnosed. Cancer can be generally defined as an abnormal growth of cells at the point where it is effecting normal physiologic function and damaging nearby tissues. Tumors may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancerous).

Cancer has existed since prehistoric times. With the advancement to the golden age of medicine in the early nineteenth century, came the advancement of the age of people, and an increased risk of developing disease.

Many environmental factors are instrumental in the advancement of cancers. Cigarette smoking is not only linked to lung cancer but to larynx (voice box), pharynx (throat), oesophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreatic cancers. It is also considered a factor in breast cancer and colon cancer.

The most prevalent cancers are lung, colon, breast (for females), prostate (for males) and melanoma (skin cancer). Other common forms of cancer include cancer of the bladder, kidney, uterus, ovary, cervix, blood and lymph, stomach and brain.

Symptoms of cancer

Many people tell the story of being diagnosed at a routine physical or check up, because they didn’t experience any symptoms. For others there are symptoms of extreme fatigue without a cause, weight loss or for some excess weight gain due to the abnormal growth of a tumor, fevers or night sweats, coughing up blood or having blood in the stool, or a change in bowel habits. These symptoms can give physician indications to run more testing, as some are also associated with other conditions.

Lifestyle and Dietary Modifications

As cancer can be a disease related to lifestyle, prevention is the primary goal in reducing cancer. Cigarette smoking is associated with a number of factors, and is universally acknowledged to be the leading cause of lung cancer, worldwide. By far the most important way to reduce the risk of lung cancer is to not smoke. Even exposure to passive smoke can significantly increase the risk of lung cancer. Other inhaled pollutant are associated with cancers, it is advised to use air filters when exposed to diesel exhaust, pitch and tar, dioxin, arsenic, chromium, cadmium, and nickel compounds and asbestos.

Radon exposure has been reported to contribute to the risk of lung cancer in the general population. Radon, a natural radioactive substance, can leak into basements from the surrounding soil. Radon exposure can also occur from the water system of houses, particularly when people take showers. Radon testing is available and advised for those who think their house may be at risk.

Excessive alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk of cancers of the mouth (oral/oropharyngeal cancer), throat (esophageal cancer), voice box (laryngeal cancer), and the risk of liver cancer is well documented. While moderate consumption of alcohol (which is one to two glasses of wine; one beer; or one ounce of spirits a day) is considered to have little impact on cancer, anything above that amount greatly increases the risk. Some people are also poor metabolizers of alcohol, which can increase the risk of liver cancer by the incomplete breakdown of alcohol into highly reactive compounds like acetaldehyde, which can damage DNA.

Whole grains (such as rye, brown rice, and whole wheat) contain high amounts of insoluble fibre which may help protect against a variety of cancers. Consuming a diet high in insoluble fibre is best achieved by switching from white rice to brown rice and from bakery goods and pastas made with white flour or mixed flours to 100% whole wheat bread and whole rye crackers. Refined white flour is generally listed on food packaging labels as ‘flour’, ‘enriched flour’, ‘unbleached flour’, ‘durum wheat’ ‘semolina’ or ‘white flour’. Breads containing only whole wheat are often labelled 100% whole wheat.

Consumption of fruits and vegetables is widely accepted as an important factor in lowering the risk of most common cancers. Many doctors recommend that people wishing to reduce their risk of cancer eat several pieces of fruit and several portions of vegetables every day. Tomatoes may have particular cancer inhibiting properties as they contain lycopene, an antioxidant similar in structure to beta-carotene.

Most lycopene in our diet comes from tomatoes, though traces of lycopene exist in other foods. Evidence of a protective effect for tomato consumption was strongest for cancers of the prostate, lung, and stomach, but some evidence of a protective effect also appeared for cancers of the pancreas, colon, rectum, oesophagus (throat), mouth, breast, and cervix. Cruciferous vegetables from cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower belong to the brassica family of vegetables. These foods have been associated with anticancer activity, possibly due to several sulphur containing substances found in these foods. Flavonoids are found in virtually all herbs and plant foods. Consumption of flavonoid-rich onions and apples contain large amounts of one flavonoid called quercetin. Quercetin may reduce the spread of some cancers.

People that practice vegetarianism have a lower risk of cancer, mainly because foods, such as the high fruit and vegetable content, consumed by vegetarians may protect against cancer and eating meat may increase the risk of cancer. Animal products contain high amounts of saturated fat which is associated with an increase in ovarian and uterine cancers. Animal products also contain exogenous hormones, many that act similar to estrogen in the body, which may be why female vegetarians have been reported to have lower estrogen levels compared with meat-eating women, possibly explaining a lower incidence of uterine and breast cancers.

The polyunsaturated omega 3 fatty acid found in fish reduces the risk of cancer by suppressing free radical reactive nitrogen species, reactive oxygen species, and free radicals which are implicated in tumour progression.

Nutritional Factors Shown to be Beneficial

Natural supplementation for cancer includes using supplements for the prevention of cancer, as well as assisting in some treatments.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has been used for the treatment of cancer and can reduce the risk of virtually all forms of cancer including leukaemia, non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and cancer of the organs.
Dose: 5-10 grams a day

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ-10)

CoQ10 is involved in cellular energy production, and acts as an antioxidant. It has also shown to be beneficial in reducing to the toxicity of healthy tissues, including the heart, when using chemotherapy, especially anti-tumor antibiotics.
Dose: 50 to 200 mg per day

Turmeric Extract (Curcuma longa)

Extracts of yellow colored of turmeric has demonstrated significant anticancer activity. All steps of cancer formation: initiation, promotion, and progression can be inhibited by turmeric. It has been shown to specifically induce apoptosis, or programmed cell suicide, in breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and has shown a positive affect in melanoma. Dose: 500-2000 mg a day with food.

Calcium D-glucarate

Calcium d-glucarate is a compound found in fruits and vegetables is a salt of D-glucaric acid consisting of D-glucaric acid bound to 12.5% calcium. This form aids in the detoxification of steroid hormones, in particular estrogen, and may help prevent against breast cancer.
Dose: 500-1000 mg two to three times a day

Bromelain

Bromelain refers to a group of enzymatic compounds from the stem of pineapple plants. These enzymes have shown anticancer effect in some studies. When combined with chemotherapeutic agents bromelain has been reported to result in tumor regression.
Dose: 750-1000 mg a day between meals

Activated Quercetin

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in fruits and vegetables. It has been shown to inhibit tumor formation. It has been used as an adjunctive treatment in many different kinds of cancer: breast, prostate, colon, lung, leukemia and melanomas.
Dose: 200-400 mg three times a day

Diagnosis and Pharmaceutical Interventions

There are several different screening methods for different types of cancer. Many of these are done on a routine basis for individuals receiving regular health care, or through public health programs such as, cervical cancer screening.

For men, screening for prostrate cancer includes a blood test for a prostate specific antigen (PSA). Levels of this antigen higher than 4.0 ng/mL are indicative of cancer, and a biopsy is then required for definitive diagnosis.

Breast cancer screenings are done both by the individual via a monthly self breast exam, or through a mammogram, which is a specialized x-ray. Some practitioners recommend women over the age of 50 get a mammogram every year. However mammograms increase a womans exposure to radiation, which may be linked to cancer.

Colon cancer can be screened using a testing device to look for blood in the stool, and further examination can be done with a colonoscopy.

A diagnosis of cancer must be confirmed with a biopsy to be definitive.

Pharmaceutical Medications

Cancer treatments can combine medication (chemotherapy), surgery and radiotherapy. Surgery is the oldest form of cancer therapy and is still used as a first approach. Chemotherapy is a broad term that usually refers to strong medications that target the rapidly dividing cells of the body, cancerous or not.

There are some well known side effects of chemotherapy: weight loss, hair loss, nausea and vomiting, skin sores and rashes, infections and suppression of the immune system, fatigue, and the risk of the long term side effects such as infertility. Radiotherapy causes disruption in the DNA of cells in a random and nonspecific fashion; it also can increase the risk of secondary cancers.

As chemotherapy has become very common, it is important to know the side effects and interactions of several of the most commonly used agents.

Cisplatin

is an inorganic metal complex based on Platinum, can cause bone marrow suppression, cause anemia, and deplete the body of the mineral calcium and magnesium. Doxorubicin damages the Cardiac Muscle of the Heart (probably due to excessive production of free radicals).

Mitomycin C is a type of anthracycline antibiotic that is usually utilized as an anti-cancer drug. Mitomycin C is derived from Streptomyces caespitosus (a form of detrimental bacteria).

Some chemotherapeutic agents such as methotrexate work by blocking the cancer cells use of the B vitamin folic acid. Use of folic acid is not advised while taking methotrexate.

Since chemotherapy is now become so common, it is important to know the side effects and interactions of several of the most commonly used agents.