The problem with cancer and what we can do about it

Davis W. Lamson, MS, ND; Tahoma Clinic, Kent, WA
Coordinator of Oncology, Bastyr University

This article was originally published in April 2002

Davis W. Lamson, MS, ND

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Most of the health problems we encounter in our lives are annoying, but not life threatening. However, there are a few for which just the mention of the word may be frightening. Cancer is one of those.

The central issue with cancer is that it really is a cascading problem. Left alone, it can continue to grow. It becomes meaner the older it gets and might eventually move (metastasize) and start a new growth in some place more important to the body than the original site. It steals nutrients and lowers immune function, increasing likelihood of infection. An immune system affected by a small cancer is unlikely to eliminate the difficulty later.

Much is known about how cancer gets started with mutations to DNA, but more to the point is the claim that about 85 percent is theoretically avoidable. Factors contributing to the incidence of cancer are said to be: diet, 35 percent; tobacco, 30 percent; reproductive and sexual behavior, 7 percent; occupation, 4 percent; alcohol, 3 percent; pollution, 2 percent; food additives, less than 1 percent; medicines, 1 percent, and industrial products, 1 percent. (Source: “Manual of Clinical Ecology,” 7th Edition, 1999.)

While this knowledge would seem to help us step out of harm’s way, people apparently are not cleaning up their act with respect to diet or tobacco. Lung cancer is the most common cancer. It is also one of the least curable, with only 15 percent surviving five years.

Strategies for fighting cancer
The first strategy in curing cancer is to not get it. Inspect your habits, behaviors and exposures. If you don’t like the way the government is overseeing health matters that we can’t control by ourselves, tell it!

Second, put an early warning system in place. Most cancers are highly curable in their early stage. That means taking a physical exam at least every two years as you approach middle age. Use a physician who will check you for the more common cancers: lung, breast, prostate, colorectal and ovarian. This will cost some money, but we do manage to afford the maintenance on our cars.

Third, be aware of your family history — that is, your Mom, Dad, brothers and sisters. “Familial cancer” can mean that close family members shared some common external factor that fostered cancer or that all family members have a genetic influence passed down by heredity. That does not guarantee or cause cancer, but does mean that it’s a little easier to acquire it. Less than 10 percent of cancers have any hereditary factor. Most suspicious situations turn out negative, but ask your physician.

The fourth strategy is active self-defense. What kinds of things could you start doing, eating and drinking that would make a difference — or stop eating and drinking? “Lifestyle factors” include food choices (eat those colored veggies daily), exercise (helps everything — thyroid, sugar control, immunity, circulation), and environmental concerns of chemical exposure at home and work. Drink green tea daily. Some kinds of nutritional supplements may help (perhaps a little lycopene and vitamin E), but there is so much conflicting information out there. Get someone who knows how to help you and find how they know. The object is to have a modest program of support, not to require your own natural pharmacy.

The last line of defense concerns what happens if all your good intentions and effort still don’t keep lightning from striking. Small tumors caught early (for example, a less than 2 cm breast cancer) have a strong chance of complete cure (about 90 percent). This is what early detection is all about.

Seek a variety of advice
M.D. oncologists are the specialists and experts in the diagnosis of cancer. They also treat with chemotherapy and radiation. Surgeons remove tumors and that’s what you want done to unburden the body from a small tumor. “Complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) has something to offer. A combination of the two forms of medical treatment is to your benefit. CAM alone has no established track record as sole therapy, but has demonstrated to many physicians that it deserves to be included. There are a few physicians in the Seattle area capable of giving good advice in this area. Most are N.D.s. Just as not every M.D. is a specialist in cancer, neither is every N.D. experienced with it.

Organic food may be more nutritious
Supporters of organic foods have long argued that they are better for the environment than conventional produce. Now, there is growing reason to believe that organic foods may be more nutritious as well, according to two recent studies.

The first report, by Virginia Worthington, MS, a nutritionist and former Johns Hopkins University student, reviews 41 scientific studies from around the world that compare the nutrition of organic and conventionally grown foods. The report found significantly higher nutrients — and less toxic substances — in organic crops.

“In the more than 300 comparisons performed in these studies,” Worthington writes, “organic crops had a higher nutritional content about 40 percent of the time, and conventional crops had a higher nutritional content only 15 percent of the time. Overall, organic crops had an equal or higher nutrient content about 85 percent of the time. These results suggest that, on average, organic crops have a higher nutrient content.”

Worthington’s paper, published in “The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine’s” April 2001 issue, found that organic crops on average boast 29 percent more magnesium, 27 percent more vitamin C, 21 percent more iron, 14 percent more phosphorous, 26 percent more calcium, 11 percent more copper, 42 percent more manganese and 9 percent more potassium.

“This is a first step because usually in science, research must be replicated,” says Worthington. “But on average, if you eat organic instead of conventional, you will get more nutrients.”

Worthington also found that organic produce has 86 percent more chromium, which is necessary for proper blood sugar balance; 498 percent more iodine, necessary for proper thyroid function; 152 percent more molybdenum, an antioxidant that has been shown to help reduce arthritic aches and pains, and 372 percent more selenium, an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage. In Britain, the Soil Association released a review of existing research indicating that organic foods are higher in nutrition than their non-organic counterparts.

The report’s author, nutritionist Shane Heaton, told “The Guardian,” a British newspaper, “Official data show an alarming decline in mineral levels in fruits and vegetables over the past half century.”

Worthington’s research “confirms our findings that, on average, organic produce contains significantly higher levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorous, and how seemingly small differences in nutrients can mean the difference between getting the recommended daily allowance — or failing to,” says Heaton.

Also in this issue

News bites, April 2002

Researchers warn of genetic contamination of organic seeds, Tom's pioneers a new standard for recyclable packaging, Organic agriculture helps tackle hunger in developing countries